When magpies attack: Australians suffer soaring injuries as 'swooping season' arrives early

Jonathan Pearlman
A Melbourne hospital recorded 56 magpie-related injuries between July and September, a significant rise on last year - wildlife.vic.gov.au

A springtime surge of magpie attacks in Australia has caused an increase in eye injuries and prompted warnings by authorities about the risks of being clawed during “swooping season”.

The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in the city of Melbourne said it had seen a steep rise in injuries, including a person who required surgery for a "penetrating eye injury".

Across Australia, there have been 3,253 recorded attacks and 520 injuries linked to magpies across the country this year, according to Magpie Alert, a social media-based site that monitors attacks.

Dr Carmel Crock, the eye and ear hospital's emergency department director, warned that magpies’ beaks and claws could cause serious injuries such as cornea lacerations and abrasions, and that dirt left in the eyes could cause infections.

"Being swooped by a bird is not just an unpleasant experience – they can cause real harm if they strike your eyes," Dr Crock said.

From July to September, the hospital recorded 56 magpie-related injuries compared with 20 during the same period last year. There have been 19 injuries recorded so far this month, compared with eight during last October.             

The Victorian state government records locations of springtime incidents on its online “Swooping bird map”.

Various places across Melbourne have been labelled magpie hotspots after repeated incidents involving dive-bombings of unsuspecting pedestrians and cyclists.

Abby Smith, a state wildlife officer, said the recent series of attacks indicated the swooping season may have arrived early this year.

"I think it's just the breeding season came a little earlier with the climate changing," she told The Age.

"Some birds were starting earlier, so it's a bigger span of time for it to happen."

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