One-year-old Jacob Gale was on his way to a miniature train day at Perth’s Whiteman Park on Sunday when he was attacked.
Jacob was walking with his family through a grassy area when a magpie swooped. The bird’s beak penetrated the boy’s eye.
“It almost looked like it was sitting there and then it kind of flapped and hovered around,” Jacob’s father Adam told Seven News. “And then he screamed out in terror.”
Jacob had emergency surgery at Princess Margaret Hospital. His father reported that the lens of his eye had to be removed because it had been damaged. It’s not yet known whether Jacob will lose sight in his eye.
A decision has been made to destroy the bird, which has swooped people before.
Gisela Kaplan, professor in animal behaviour at the University of New England, says an attack like this by a magpie is “extremely rare”.
“It is little consolation to the poor little boy, of course, and to the parents,” she adds.
Professor Kaplan, author of The Australian Magpie, says male magpies defend their nests for about four weeks of the year.
“If there is any chance of any danger to the young they will swoop,” she explains. “The swooping is meant to be within a couple of inches above their head. It’s not actually to make contact because it’s too dangerous for the magpie.”
She says swooping usually only turns into an attack when the magpie feels the request for distance from its nest has been ignored.
Professor Kaplan recommends people avoid areas where magpies are known to be swooping. If people are swooped by a magpie while walking or riding a bike, they should slow down or stop, rather than speed up, and should cross to the other side of the road, away from the nest.
“If you ride your bicycle faster, you’re likely to be pursued longer,” she adds.
She says if people need to walk past swooping magpies every day, they can make friends with them, by letting the magpie see them put a bit of mincemeat on the ground.
“By the third time, the magpie’s decided, ‘I know this person now and she’s all right.’”
Professor Kaplan says when she moved to New England there were a lot of magpie attacks. But she found out that people had been aggressive towards the birds.
“There was a strong history in Armidale of boys in the eight-to-12-year age group taking great pleasure in throwing stones at magpies. That age group became the focus of attacks of magpies in future years. They had learned that boys about that height were all dangerous and an enemy.”
She started spreading the message that people could be friends with magpies.
“The attitude changed completely and with it the attacks.”
Professor Kaplan says magpies have probably made more permanent friendships with people than any other native bird.
“It’s not a bad bird,” she adds.
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