An Australian family is mourning the loss of a five-month-old girl who died after her mother tried to protect her from a swooping magpie.
Baby Mia was in her mother’s arms when a magpie swooped at them in Brisbane’s Glindemann Park on Sunday, causing her mother to trip and fall. Mia was rushed to hospital but later died from injuries sustained in the fall, according to the Queensland Ambulance Service.
“The parents and bystanders did a really fantastic job, they got us coming really quickly and allowed the little one to have the best possible chance,” said a paramedic who attended the scene.
“Even as paramedics this is an incredibly rare and tragic event to get called to,” Holland said. “It was a very emotive scene, my thoughts are with the parents.”
Indeed, with hundreds of magpie attacks every year, experts say deaths related to magpie attacks do happen but are extremely rare.
What is magpie swooping?
Magpies are known for aggressively defending their nests, particularly during breeding season which runs July-December in Brisbane.
That aggression has earned magpies a fearsome reputation in Australia, where the sharp-beaked black and white bird grows to around 40 centimeters (15 inches) long.
Magpies are a protected species in Australia, where it is illegal to kill the bird or remove its chicks or eggs from the wild.
Are all magpies dangerous?
Although extremely rare, deaths linked to magpie attacks do happen. In 2019 a 76-year-old Sydney man died of head injuries after crashing his bicycle while attempting to avoid a swooping magpie.
The birds themselves can also cause injuries. In 2020, a man and woman suffered eye injuries in separate incidents in regional Victoria involving a particularly aggressive magpie. In 2018, child in Perth was almost blinded when a magpie attacked his face as he sat in his pram.
Far more common are scratches to the head, neck or face from the birds’ sharp beaks.
“The majority of birds are not aggressive, even the ones that are defending their territory will show restraint, but a few are aggressive, and they cause the trouble,” explains an bird lover.
Local councils usually compile records of magpie attacks, while the independent website Magpie Alert compiles national data based on readers’ submissions.
It has recorded 212 magpie attacks across Australia so far this year, with Queensland clocking up the most of any state with 88 reported attacks.
Magpie Alert logged 1,231 magpie swoops in the state of Queensland in 2020, with thousands more reported across the rest of Australia.
Magpies are not the only bird that swoops in Australia: peewees, butcher birds and plovers do too, although Dooley says given magpies are more common, the number of incidents is higher.
Things to do when a magpie swoops you
- Stay calm, despite that being difficult when an angry bird is flapping in your face.
- Do not wave your arms above your head; simply placing them over your head to protect it is the best bet.
- Protect your face
- Walk away fast from the area. Do not run
So, walk as fast as you can but don’t run, protect your face, and get out of there as quickly as possible to minimise your risk of injury.
How not to get swooped?
- If you know there’s a nest, obviously steer clear.
- If you can’t avoid areas where there are nests, be aware that cyclists tend to be much more likely to be attacked than people on foot, and runners tend to be attacked more than walkers.
- Carrying a stick to lash out at the birds will just anger them more. A better bet is something like an umbrella, which can shield you without antagonising the bird.
- Because the birds can recognise individuals, going out of your way to make friends with them can ensure they recognise that you’re not a threat.
- If you feed them at your home at other times of the year, they will remember come breeding season.
- Don’t antagonise the birds and they will mostly leave you alone.
Relatives have launched a fund raising campaign to raise money to help cover Mia’s funeral costs and to assist her parents, identified only by their first names Jacob and Simone.
“On this day, in Glendemann Park, Holland Park West an absolute tragic and sudden accident occurred, where beautiful Mia, at only five young months of age, grew her little angel wings and left this world for the final time,” the fund raising page reads. “No words can begin to describe the torture [parents] Jacob and Simone are going through.”
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