Monday, September 15, 2003


boynton recently received a most generous gift from trivia team-mates Averil and Ross - The Simpson & Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia a beautiful book with 132 colour plates and 1000 b/w illustrations. We had talked about learning names, and this earlier post (which in turn was inspired by Fred at Fragments from Floyd) and so now Averil has equipped boynton the beginner or common ornithologist with a guidebook - an "unrivalled companion". (She'd better not just look at the pictures like she does with the Melways)
When you see a bird, any bird, it is going about one aspect of its day, its year, its life. So for that matter are you.
The first bird she looked up was the Australian magpie Gymnorhina tibicen
When boynton lived deep in "magpie" territory she got to know a group of maggies up at the oval where she'd throw the frisbee to her dog. This group seemed to endure and were never worried by dogs, kids or cars. Their habitat was relatively safe, their open grazing conducted on quiet parkland, and not in the precarious plantation of a highway. She was watching a new group over here near the bus stop recently, and a few days later saw one of them had been killed. Another scanned the dead black and white form from the top of a power pole.
Being a fan of their carolling, and having never been swooped, boynton can't understand the low mapgie tolerance or paranoia. Such behaviour seems only reasonable:
If magpies are teased or feel threatened while nesting (typically in August-September in southern Australia), they will 'swoop' at their aggressor with their claws extended in an attempt to drive them away. This behaviour has led some people to see magpies as dangerous birds, but they are merely attempting to defend themselves.
And she has read of magpies remembering :
Interestingly, most magpies which attack pedestrians attack the same few individuals over and over again. If they attack others, it’s probably a case of mistaken identity, says Dr Jones. He believes such magpies may have had an early traumatic experience – perhaps someone who looked like these people had harmed the magpies chicks, or even 'rescued' a fledgling, something the parent mistook as predation.

There are some rather grim hospital descriptions of Injuries Involving Magpies
in this Injury Surveillance Information System (ISIS) in which a MAGPIE was coded as being a factor in causing an injury.

Riding bike home, collided with a tree after being swooped by magpie. Sprain or strain, Ankle, Treated, no referral
Being chased by irate magpie while horseriding. Fell; landed on ground.Fracture. Femur.. Admitted
Nursing and patting magpie magpie poked beak in eye trying to get tear. Superficial abrasion
Just got off bus, attacked by magpie. Puncture. Skull vault

but over in NZ - the balance sheet is clearly spiked the other way. It would appear that some authorities regard the introduced birds as a pest and provide gruesome info and methods on their eradication These include using distress tapes as a decoy.
For shooting to be most effective, also use a Magpie Distress Calling Tape. This is a recording of actual magpies in distress and when played will attract magpies from up to one kilometre away. This method should be used sparingly however as surviving birds quickly become gun-shy and wary of distress tapes.
Place the tape player in an open area near the magpies preferred perching trees and within shooting range of cover

In the meantime, some local advice on Living with magpies And hopefully one day boynton will be able to refer to the Latin names index first before checking into the Common names index in the most comprehensive one-volume book of (oz ornithological) identification.

Comments: maggies

Interesting, Boynton. It is appropriate to get a little interested in magpies at this time of year. The paper was full of stories of a bunch of lions being attacked by magpies near the city the weekend before last. The lions were eventually driven off by the magpies after relentlessly barraging them for over two hours. Those same lions are considering another foray, but first need to overcome a particularly aggressive group of swans (botanical name???) who would apparently like the same opportunity at the magpies. Strange times, September.
Posted by Phlip at September 16, 2003 09:08 AM

NZ magpies are quite tough birds. I was driving through the Canterbury plains in my 2000 NZ tour and I hit a magpie at 80 KpH. I stopped to check that the car was okay, and to finish off the poor bird if it wasn't dead.

The car was ok (It was a hire car, hence my concern.) The bird was clearly stunned, but I looked at the magpie and while he/she was obviously crook, I couldn't observe any fatal damage. I nursed and patted it for five minutes, and my companion fed it some chips from the car. After that, the bird flew away with the rest of his/her flock, who had waited patiently to see that their friend was alright.

A very hardy bird, I must say.
Posted by Scott Wickstein at September 16, 2003 10:21 AM

Strange but exciting times indeed this September, Philip, that sees rare ornithological groupings.
Old time enthusiasts have been waiting since 1933 to see the Cygnus magnificus - and there are possibly more melburnians wanting to see that phenomenon occur than there are members of that mad magpie cult. Hopefully the tealed flock and even the lions will be marooned and it will be a feathered spectacle on the open ground of Jolimont.

Scott: Must have been something in the chups?
That's quite a story - glad it has a happy ending. A mutant "still-wung" variety maybe?
Posted by boynton at September 16, 2003 12:32 PM

cygnus magnificus vs gymnorhina tibicen would indeed be a fitting finale, and we would look forward to seeing the feathers fly.
Posted by phlip at September 16, 2003 03:30 PM

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