Magpies have started their swooping season early this year and are set to be even more aggressive because they are threatened by people wearing face masks.
Birdlife Australia’s national public affairs manager, Sean Dooley, said the birds would not be able to recognise people they had previously identified as a friend or threat.
‘A magpie may know you and know that you’re okay, but when you’re wearing a mask they may not be able to recognise you,’ Mr Dooley told 3AW.
Mr Dooley claimed magpies could recognise and remember up to 100 individual people through facial recognition.
He explained magpies would not be able to tell people apart and could swoop anyone wearing a mask that they associated with bad experiences.
‘If they’re seeing more than 100 people a day and they can’t work out who is who they will just start to target those types of people.
‘It might be the colour of the mask that makes them go for you,’ Mr Dooley explained.
Deborah Kelly, Manager of Animal Welfare and Wildlife at the South Australia Department of Environment, said magpies had begun swooping earlier than usual.
Dr Kelly explained that magpies usually attack in spring but could be swooping ahead of schedule due to a sudden change in temperature.
‘We’ve certainly had reports of magpies swooping, we don’t normally expect that until around mid September,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
At least 280 magpie attacks have been reported across Australia since mid June, according to the Magpie Alert website.
‘It does seem to be early this year… it’s really hard to know what the triggers are, in most birds it’s things like increase in day lengths or in temperatures,’ Dr Kelly said.
The early swooping indicated that a warmer winter had tricked some magpies into nesting and becoming protective earlier than usual.
‘Normally they start warbling around mid-August to say they’re getting ready for breeding season.
‘Then about three weeks after that, when they’ve got eggs, that’s when they’ll start swooping,’ she explained.
Magpies will most often swoop when they feel threatened and want to protect the young in their nest.
‘It’s usually a six-week period and they don’t all do it at exactly the same time, so any particular pair might swoop for six weeks between September and November.
‘They’re just defending their nests and telling you to go away and it’s a very effective way to do it,’ Dr Kelly explained.
Dr Kelly warned if had you encountered an aggressive magpie in a particular spot it would most likely return to the same location this year.
‘They always go back to the same site so if you had a swooping pair last year you can bet your bottom dollar they’re going to be back again this year.’
Dr Kelly also said to be on the lookout for a ‘double-whammy’ swooping season.
‘If they lose the chicks then they’ll often nest again, so they can nest twice if it’s a prolonged breeding season,’ she explained.
Australians were advised to avoid eye contact and detour around magpie territories whenever possible.
‘If you’re riding a bike have a flag on top, they’ll usually go for the tallest point, you can also have an umbrella if you really need to,’ Dr Kelly explained.
The majority of attacks this year have been on cyclists and walkers.
As magpies are native to Australia, those affected by the swooping are not able to take any action which may harm the birds or disturb their nests.
The South Australian Department for Environment and Water also advised travelling in groups, wearing a hat or helmet and walking rather than running to avoid being swooped.