On any given spring day around Australia you can spot cyclists and pedestrians ducking, weaving and running for cover to avoid swooping magpies.
Like a monochromatic flash, they terrorise suburban streets, snapping their beaks near the eyes, ears and nose of anyone who dares pass too close to their nest.
We’ve come up with some creative ways to avoid the annual aerial attacks — think bike helmets bristling with zip ties and hats with googly eyes.
However, ABC Radio Brisbane listeners overwhelmingly agreed the way to a magpie’s heart was through its stomach.
“My grandmother has been buying mince to feed the birds for over 50 years and has generation upon generation coming to visit her.” — Sue
“Mealworms, crickets and even bananas for our local maggies.” — Peter
“Shredded cheese seems to work for a little treat.” — Rachel
“I feed them prime mince, cheese, crushed almonds, crushed good-quality dry dog food.” — Gary
“They love peanuts. I’ve got six that turn up every morning.” — Thomas
“A friend feeds hers sliced raw steak so it’s long like a worm.” — Jenny
The bad news is that the treats magpies we give magpies have the potential to harm them and kill their young.
Raw meat, cheese and bread off the menu
Brisbane bird and exotic animal vet Deborah Monks said raw meat and mince, although popular, did the most damage to magpie health.
“I wouldn’t recommend raw mince on its own because it doesn’t have enough calcium in it,” she said.
Dr Monks said people who fed adult magpies raw meat wouldn’t see the effects it had on their young in the nest, but veterinarians regularly saw birds with weak and disfigured bones.
“We certainly see babies where the parents have been supplemented with mince … their bones are soft and break,” she explained.
“If you have to feed mince, then you have to supplement with calcium powder to try to offset some of the deficiencies in it.”
Dr Monks says raw meat and mince can lead to calcium deficiencies in young magpies. (Flickr: Melanie Cook)
Cheese and bread should be off limits to magpies too, she said.
“I would say no to dairy products, and if you have to feed other treats [give magpies] a teeny-tiny amount of oats and maybe a teeny-tiny amount of nuts in miniscule proportions.
“I wouldn’t recommend bread because it’s a carbohydrate and it’s not really what they’re designed to eat in the wild.”
Regular feeding risky for magpies
Dr Monks said feeding magpies too much too often could also do them harm.
“If something happens to us — if we sell the house or go away on holidays — suddenly those birds who have become reliant on us for a food source are left going hungry.
“The worst thing would be feeding a huge amount of food at the same time every day because you’re going to have birds waiting instead of doing their wild things and foraging around.
“Be a little more random about it so the birds are forced to find alternate sources of food.”
The nutritional equivalent of foods commonly fed to magpies. (Supplied: Healthy Wildlife, Healthy Lives)
Should we even feed magpies at all?
Many listeners insisted people should leave magpies to their own devices:
“Stop feeding wild animals full stop. It’s not helpful at all.” — Jasper
“Not supposed to feed native birds.” — Cheryl
“Let them find their own food. They are in full swing along our road swooping bike riders.” — Susan
Murdoch University’s Healthy Wildlife, Healthy Lives website discourages feeding, saying it leads to “nutritional imbalances, increase the risk of disease, and lead to a disruption in natural animal behaviour”.
Dr Monks said if people insisted on feeding, they should get to know what magpies ate in the wild before offering up any more treats.
“They’re carnivores so they eat dead animals … and they’ll eat some insects and things like that as well,” she said.
“I guess the important thing is they eat all of the animal rather than just the meat part of it.
“My number-one, gold-standard choice would be to feed something like an insectivore rearing mix because that replicates what they would have in the wild.”
Dr Monks said a love for wildlife should be encouraged, especially in leafy suburbs where wildlife coexisted with people.
“Magpies are super-smart and they live in social groups, so they’re actually perfect for interactions with humans in that way.
“They are pretty good at training people to give them what they want.”