Tasmanian magpies don’t swoop, but no-one knows why





Updated

October 02, 2019 09:53:22

Tasmanian magpies are very polite. Of the almost 3,000 reported attacks so far in 2019, only one was in the island state.

Key points:

  • Of all the magpie attacks reported so far this year, 0.03 per cent were in Tasmania
  • A bird expert says incidents in the state are usually the result of provocation
  • It’s possible that Tasmanian magpies may simply be” a bit more chill” than their mainland cousins

While mainland Australians go to great lengths to avoid being swooped, the magpies in Tasmania barely bat an eyelid at the state’s human inhabitants.

So why don’t Tasmanian magpies swoop?

Relaxed maggies

Magpies are native to Tasmania and are abundant across the state, though exact numbers are unknown.

“For whatever reason Tasmanian magpies don’t swoop in the same way that mainland magpies swoop,” BirdLife Tasmania ornithologist Eric Woehler said.

Dr Woehler said it was unclear whether it was to do with Tasmania not having as many magpies in urban areas like other parts of the country.

“Whether it’s just simply that they are a bit more chill down here and a bit less stressed about people or that they don’t breed close to people, which brings out this defence behaviour, we don’t know,” he said.

He said the few reports of swooping magpies in Tasmania were usually because a bird had been harassed.

“When we have had records in the past of kids being swooped it turns out the kids were throwing rocks at them or something and the birds are simply being aggravated rather than it being a natural behaviour,” Dr Woehler said.

Are Tasmanian magpies a different species?

Dr Woehler said there was no clear difference between Tasmanian magpies and their mainland cousins.

He said the magpie was a wide-ranging bird in Australia, and could technically be broken up into nine sub-species.

“They may have a slightly different genetic make-up or a slightly different colouration, but fundamentally the Australian magpie is found over much of Australia,” he said.

“I’m not aware of any indications or efforts to isolate Tasmania’s birds from the mainland.”

Dr Woehler said it was possible that when the magpie first settled in Tasmania the birds that came to the island did not have aggressive genes.

“We’ve known for many, many years that our birds aren’t aggressive like the mainland ones,” he said.

“We just know there is a difference, and we’re thankful in Tasmania that we don’t have aggressive magpies.”

Common species ‘overlooked’

Dr Woehler said he was not aware of any formal studies on the behaviour of Tasmanian magpies, and that common bird species were often overlooked.

“It would be interesting to try and work out whether it is as simple as defending a nest or something more complex,” he said.

He said threatened and rare birds were studied heavily.

“It’s sometimes at the expense of our more common species that we know less about,” he said.

Dr Woehler described the sound of the magpie as “the epitome of the Australian bush”.

“When you hear a magpie carolling in the bush it is a wonderful, engaging call,” he said.

Topics:

birds,

animal-attacks,

animal-behaviour,

environmental-management,

hobart-7000,

launceston-7250,

burnie-7320,

canberra-2600,

sydney-2000

First posted

October 02, 2019 07:07:02



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