Magpie season is currently in full swing (or should that be swoop?) with dozens of parks and playgrounds descending into avian war zones. But just because something is scary doesn't mean you should believe everything you hear. Here are five bogus magpie myths that the nation needs to debunk.
Myth #1: All magpies are aggressive
If you've ever been the unfortunate victim of a magpie, it's natural to assume that the entire species is made up of hateful, aggressive dickheads. In reality, it is estimated by scientists that around 10 per cent of paired breeding males regularly target humans. This is a tiny proportion of the entire magpie population. In other words, stop being racist. #NotAllMagpies
Myth #2: Magpies are enraged by the colour orange
This is a common misconception — so much so that schools have been known to discourage the colour during the height of magpie season. In fact, all of the research conducted to date points towards the protective parent hypothesis. When vulnerable chicks are nearby, an aggressive magpie will swoop no matter what you are wearing.
Myth #3: People regularly lose an eye as a result of magpie attacks
According to data collated by the National Data Standards for Injury Surveillance, there were a total of 59 Australian magpie attacks requiring hospital treatment over a decade of study. (To put that into perspective, there were 119 Australian road fatalities in the month of August alone.) It should also be noted that the magpie statistic includes minor injuries and attacks that caused a person to fall or lose control of a bicycle — actual eye pecking is exceptionally rare.
Myth #4: A magpie can remember and recognise your face for years
This one does have a kernel of truth to it but it's not unique to the magpie. As Selina Haefeli of Science Illustrated reports:
"It has been suggested that only bird species with high cognitive abilities are capable of recognising familiar human faces and voices. However Anna Wilkinson and her colleagues from the University of Lincoln, UK, have shown that even pigeons — not exactly the most “highly cognitive” birds — are capable of discriminating between individual humans."
Magpies tend to remain in the same territory for the majority of their 20-year lifespan, so it's not uncommon for them to frequently encounter the same people. There's nothing exceptional or supernatural about this though — a stray dog can do the same thing.
Myth #5: Attaching plastic eyes on the back of your hat/helmet will scare magpies off
Got any magpie myths, interesting factoids or feather-flying anecdotes to share? Swoop into the comments and have at it!