Mating magpies mob suburban Australians

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The Independent Online

These are balmy spring days in Canberra, but residents anxiously scan the skies. It is not the danger of rain or the effect of ultraviolet rays that worries them; it is the sudden beat of wings, the clack of beaks, the scratch of razor-sharp claws.

These are balmy spring days in Canberra, but residents anxiously scan the skies. It is not the danger of rain or the effect of ultraviolet rays that worries them; it is the sudden beat of wings, the clack of beaks, the scratch of razor-sharp claws.

Terror stalks the Australian capital in the shape of a plague of angry magpies that have been swooping down and attacking humans during the breeding season. Among their favourite targets, for reasons unclear, are cyclists, red-haired women and mothers with baby strollers.

"It came out of nowhere," said one woman, who has scratches and a red peck mark on her temple after being attacked as she pushed a stroller through the leafy streets. "Suddenly there was a great black thing at my head. It hit me twice, and kept swooping. Luckily I had my glasses on, or it would have really got me." Canberrans are resorting to desperate measures to protect themselves. They have been wearing hard hats, carrying open umbrellas or brandishing sticks with streamers which are said to deter the birds. Children have been making hats from cardboard and ice-cream containers.

Last year 254 attacks were reported during the mating season. Humans are the birds' main target, but the territorial flocks of 20 magpies have also pecked other birds to death.

The magpies even seized a brief moment of Olympic fame when they swooped on mountain bikers racing through the leafy course in Sydney's western suburbs.

The Parks and Conservation Service in Canberra has posted signs at magpie blackspots. One park ranger, Aaron Kennedy, suggested wearing a big hat with eyes on the back. "They won't attack if they think you're watching," he explained.

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