What started as a “one-way conversation” with a magpie has ended with a Victorian man airlifted to hospital with serious injuries to both his eyes.
James Glindemann, 68, said he was about to tuck into a Chinese takeaway lunch on Tuesday at an outdoor mall in Sale, about 200km east of Melbourne, when he was suddenly and viciously swooped by a magpie.
“A juvenile magpie sat down in front of me, I had a one-way conversation for a few seconds and it was just looking at me,” Glindemann told Guardian Australia.
But after he asked the bird something akin to “how are you going?” things quickly turned ugly.
“I started to open the lunchbox, the next thing I knew, the bird had flown at my face and struck me in the left eye,” he said.
“Apart from the shock of it all, I just thought, yes, it had struck me in the face, but I didn’t think it had done any damage.”
Glindemann said at that stage he had “not dropped my meal”, which appeared to have been a mistake.
“The bird sat on the concrete in front of me, and saw I hadn’t dropped the food, or I think that was what its thinking was,” he said. “It immediately attacked the right-hand side of my face, on the eye with a fair bit of force, and drew some blood.
“I became a bit concerned at this stage. I picked up the meal, which had fallen to the ground at this stage and started walking to my car, which wasn’t that far away.
“The closer I got to the car, the worse my eyesight was getting. I looked in the mirror to see the extent of the damage and I couldn’t focus at all on it.”
Glindemann called an ambulance and was taken to a local hospital. With the doctors concerned by the extent of his injuries, he was flown to the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, where he underwent surgery for two hours.
The story was first reported by ABC Gippsland, which said that about about 60 patients a year present to the hospital with bird-related eye injuries, according to hospital official Thomas Campbell.
Last month, one birdlife expert warned Victoria’s magpie swooping season might be worse than usual due to the statewide mask mandate. Birdlife Australia’s Sean Dooley argued magpies could recognise individual faces and “tend to swoop the people they see as a threat”.
Glindemann said he was not wearing a mask at the time because he was just about to eat. But he did say another woman had subsequently contacted him to say she had also been swooped in the same area.
Glindemann is now recovering at home and said he is hopeful his sight will soon return to normal.
His right eye, which bore the brunt of the attack, was still blurry, but he said doctors believed the main concern was preventing infection.
His left eye was also “very smoky, smoggy”.
“On the first day I couldn’t see my hand if I raised it front of me,” he said. “Now I can count my fingers if I only look through my left eye.”
A young NSW boy has experienced the horror of Australia's magpie swooping season, with his dad on hand to film the relentless attack.
Tips to avoid being swooped: https://t.co/NHiClS8lad#9News pic.twitter.com/uOxXxr48WN
— 9News Australia (@9NewsAUS) September 29, 2020
The reputation of the humble magpie, which won Guardian Australia’s 2017 bird of the year poll, could at best be described as divisive.
Last year a Sydney council was forced to defend its decision to shoot a swooping magpie, which it said was “not taken lightly”. Only last month, a video of a young boy being relentlessly swooped by a magpie – and filmed by his father – went viral.
But magpies also have their defenders, including some of the people who spoke to the Guardian for an episode of the Full Story podcast this month. Glindemann is also on their side.
“No, I still like magpies, I love them,” he said. “They’re a beautiful bird, they’re brave. However, I think this bird’s made a bit of a bad mistake.”
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