IF YOU’VE ever been the subject of a dive-bombing magpie, it’s interesting to find there is some science behind the swoop.
New research has shown that the avian territorial behaviour is subject to whether the bird believes you are friend or foe.
University of New England animal behaviour expert Dr Gisela Kaplan said that magpies use facial recognition to distinguish between different people. The study showed magpies could recognise that certain people near their nesting grounds were not a threat and would leave them alone.
East Tamworth resident Gennett Loi said she often saw people falling victim to the resident “maggie” in her front yard but said she and her husband had never been attacked.
It seems the bird especially looks forward to end of school time, with Mrs Loi saying returning students are often attacked. “One school girl pulls her top over her head and runs straight past,” Mrs Loi said.
An infamous magpie resides near the corner of Darling St and Carthage St in East Tamworth, with several reports of magpies drawing blood and schoolchildren cowering in terror as they pass near the spot.
So much so the National Parks and Wildlife Service have put up signs warning passersby to stay away from the area, but a business directly near the sign says that none of their staff have been attacked this year.
“One customer came in and said they’d been attacked,” the receptionist of North West Muscularskeletal Sports Physiotherapy Centre said, but she herself had escaped injury.
The news is good for those that have a magpie nest in direct competition with their backyard, driveway or recreation areas.
“If you have a nest in the backyard or a pair of magpies, and they’ve seen you in the backyard at the time of nesting, they will recognise you, realise you are no risk to the birds or young and won’t swoop,” Dr Kaplan said.
Dr Kaplan said the birds “have no concept of public space,” and the first swoop was generally a warning to stay away.
Dr Kaplan created a line-up of several similar looking people, similar to that of a crime scenario, to test a bird’s facial recognition.
“If you choose people of a similar height, clothes and hairstyle, the magpie will make a clear and non-hesitant choice every time.”