2019年11月21日 星期四

Australia Letter: We Hate Magpies. We Also Love Them.

I thought it might be safe for me and my vulnerable head to go outside.

Letter 134

The Love-Hate Relationship Between Humans and Magpies

Illustration by Leif Parsons; photos by Fir0002/Flagstaffoto, Steve Carroll/shutterstock
The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. This week’s issue is written by Isabella Kwai, a reporter with the Australia bureau.

I thought it might be safe for me and my vulnerable head to go outside. But I wasn’t sure. Swooping season for the Australian magpie might not be over yet.

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The birds, which seek refuge in the well-watered parks and scattered trees of city suburbs around the country, are an Australian favorite.

For a few months each year, beginning around August, male magpies will aggressively swoop perceived threats near nesting areas during the breeding season. I’m sorry, but that means you (and me).

The large, black-and-white birds have instilled fear in cyclists and passers-by, who have faced off with them and been left worse for wear.

One Queensland cyclist said he was stalked on his morning commute for months by the same magpie, before it forced him off his bike this month, shattering his wrist. Another man died in September after he crashed into a fence to avoid a particularly aggressive bird. In Sydney, a local council shot dead another magpie, fearing more injuries, after residents said it had terrorized the community for three years.

Despite this, the birds are beloved by Australians, and have even topped bird of the year polls.

“The most dangerous bird in Australia is also the most popular,” said Professor Darryl Jones, an urban ecologist at Griffith University who studies birds. “It’s a very strange relationship.”

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Maybe it’s about the magpie you know versus the one that attacks a stranger. Only about 10 percent of magpies engage in aggressive swooping, and the birds are highly social — intelligent enough to recognize human faces. It means you might be a frequent target. But it also means they often return, again and again, to the balconies and gardens of people who feed them, sometimes with their chicks in tow.

Typically, the swooping season for the magpie concludes in October. But this year, reports of swoops are still rolling in even now.

Websites like Magpie Alert track accounts of (unverified, crowdsourced) magpie attacks in an attempt to protect the public. So far this year: 4,015 attacks, 561 injuries. And the comments?

“This bird is psycho,” one victim wrote. “Got me again on the side of the head and bled.”

“He came at me twice,” added another. “I think my terrified screaming kept him from actually making contact.”

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The drying climate, which has already pushed magpies and other birds into the cities by making it difficult to find food, may be partially responsible. Magpies struggling with hunger might delay mating.

“It stretches out the breeding season much longer than it should,” said Professor Jones.

So how do we avoid getting swooped? Should I walk around with a bucket on my head or cable ties on my helmet, like some locals recommend?

“Just avoid that area,” Professor Jones said. “Do not go near the nest.”

Do you have an encounter with Australian birds you’d like to share? Write to us at nytaustralia@nytimes.com.

Now onto stories for the week.

Australia and the Region

About 1,500 people came to the Bachelor and Spinster Ball, in Ariah Park, Australia, last month.Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Around The Times

Workers with Triton Submarines, a bubble-sub company in Florida, conducted a surface stability test on a Triton 3300/3 submarine at a facility in Fort Pierce, Fla.Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

And Over to You …

A few weeks ago we included a winning essay from Gina Song, a university student who wrote about her family’s experience with migration. Here’s one reader’s response:

“It is not acceptable but there will always be a small percentage of the world’s inhabitants that will discriminate against new comers who are different. It happens to people who are over weight, under weight, achievers & non-achievers, old or young. It happens for many reasons including jealousy, fear or just plain uneducated stupidity.

I am sad to read Jin-A’s letter and, if she has not yet met the type of Aussies who welcome New Australians like her and her family, she is more than welcome to drop in for a cup of tea and a big hug if she is ever on the Gold Coast.”

-Allan Ford

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