Magpie season is upon us - here's how to keep your kids safe

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A few years ago, on a sunny October afternoon, we decided to go for a walk through a beachside park, which was packed with families enjoying the sun.

Our children brought their scooters and had just zoomed ahead of us when, out of nowhere, a magpie swooped my son. The resulting hit to the head was so hard and so sudden that he was knocked off his feet.

Luckily, he had been wearing a helmet, which protected him not only from the magpie's attack but the resulting fall from his scooter. 

While my son escaped with scrapes and bruises, as well as a fear of magpies that haunted him for the next couple of years, other children have not been so lucky.

A one-year-old boy was rushed to hospital for emergency eye surgery after he was attacked by a magpie last year in Western Australia. The toddler was in a park with his parents when the magpie attacked, puncturing his left eyelid, resulting in a lacerated cornea and possible long-term damage.

Breeding season

Now with magpie season upon us again, experts are warning that children are at particular risk of magpie attack, especially when running or riding a bike or scooter.

'Magpie season' refers to breeding season of young chicks and occurs from late August to late October. 

The male magpie is responsible for attacks, and experts say the latter part of the season can see increased activity from attacking magpies as baby birds prepare to leave the nest.

Avian experts say native birds such as magpies are highly protective of their eggs, nest and young and swoop when they feel threatened as part of a natural instinct to protect their offspring.

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About 9 per cent of male magpies will swoop, and it is not known why some magpies attack and others don't.

Fast moving objects are seen by magpies as a threat so those who are running or riding a bike or scooter are often swooped.

Emotional impact 

For many children who have been the victims of a magpie attack, the mental scars can last longer than the physical.

My son was so terrified after his magpie encounter that he refused to ride his bike or scooter for the remainder of the year, and clung to us terrified whenever we set foot in a park for months afterwards. The following year he refused to go near a park or ride a bike or scooter for the duration of magpie season.

And he was not alone. A child in the same grade at his school was so terrified of magpies that he had to be treated for anxiety following a swooping incident in his driveway.

According to his mother, he would hold his head and run screaming up the driveway whenever he left the house during magpie season for several years after the initial attack.

Expert advice

Experts say phobias can result from a childhood trauma and parents need to be aware of the danger signs and take steps to avoid a fear getting out of hand.

Psychologist John Malouff says parents can help their children overcome a bad experience with a magpie by talking to them.

"I suggest telling children you would be scared or angry if a bird attacked you," says Associate Professor Malouff. 

"Explain why some magpies attack and say that attacks occur almost exclusively during certain months. And that all the rest of the year, magpies will not attack," he says, adding it is helpful to explain to children what steps they can take to protect themselves from a magpie attack. 

"If the child acts overly fearful for several weeks after magpie swooping season ends, go outside and watch magpies with the child. Comment positively about the magpies being an interesting part of nature and draw magpies with the child.

"Seek help if the fear and avoidance prevent the child over at least several weeks from doing the usual activities of child life, such as playing, going to school, going on a walk.

"Also, seek help if the child experiences great distress over several weeks relating to the fear, such as frequent magpie nightmares or daytime flashbacks to an attack."

How to stay safe 

  • Avoid areas where magpies are swooping. 
  • Wear a large hat and carry an open umbrella.
  • If you are riding a bike or scooter, dismount before passing by.
  • If you are swooped, do not stay in the magpie's territory or it will continue to swoop. Walk quickly out of the area.
  • Wear sunglasses or another eye protection. 
  • Do not throw anything at the bird as it may provoke a further attack. 
  • Firing a super soaker water gun at a swooping magpie may act as a deterrent.