Lane Cove Council’s Decision to Cull Magpies Divides Residents

    Earlier this year, a Lane Cove North Resident’s action group lodged a petition with Lane Cove Council asking them to remove a male and female magpie in Johnston Crescent that has been aggressively attacking residents.   Neighbours launched this petition as they had been asking for action on the magpies for several years.  Magpies are a protected species.

    Lane Cove Council agreed to observe the magpies. After observation and discussion with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, they will now manage the birds in line with the ‘NPWS Policy on Management of Native Birds that Show Aggression to People’.   This means that the birds will not be relocated (as the resident’s requested) but will be culled.  They have identified two aggressive birds.

    Lane Cove North Residents Concerns

    Lane Cove North Residents have asked the council to take action due to:

    • the magpies attacking residents in their driveway and on their steps to their houses and when they are getting out of their cars;
    • there have been several attacks where the magpie has just missed someone’s eye;
    • the two magpies attack outside the usual swooping season;
    • Lane Cove Council previous attempts to assist in reducing attacks (such as increasing resident awareness, signage and liaising with residents within the nearby street new signage with QR codes to the Magpie Alert website to report incidents and providing umbrellas nearby for those who felt they could benefit from extra protection) have not worked.

    Petition Launched to Stop the Cull

    Numerous Lane Cove residents (including some who live on Johnston Crescent) have objected to the culling of birds and have launched a petition to stop the culling.   You can view the petition here.

    Residents who are not in favour of a cull argue that:

    • Lane Cove residents live in a bushland setting, and we need to learn to live with native birds;
    • They only attack during a short period of time, and residents should take steps to avoid them during that time;
    • If the birds are destroyed, new magpies will take over their nests;
    • Residents should wear a hat and learn to live with the birds

    Lane Cove Council’s Response

    Lane Cove Council posted the following on their website:

    Our aim has been to support a positive outcome for residents and local wildlife. Resident injuries have continued in the 2021 season in the vicinity of Johnston Crescent, and concerns from some neighbouring residents have escalated during this second season.

    The below encounters are examples from the website ‘Magpie Alert’ for the Johnston Crescent and Tantallon Road area of Lane Cove North over the past month:

    1. 5/8/21 – ‘Swooped from behind, hit behind my right ear, drew blood and left me with a headache. Never heard it coming. Walked backwards for a while but no more attempts.’ –
    2. 6/8/21 – ‘Swooped while walking. Drew blood on the top of my head.’
    3. 9/8/21 – ‘Magpie came and swooped me. I didn’t see it coming from behind and it scratched my head. I now have three bleeding scratches. I felt like a shoe hit my head and the pain lasted three days.’
    4. 18/8/21 – ‘Magpie swooped first, I was walking always and it attacked me on my forehead, I had bleed, I tried to run but it kept swooping, and then stopped when I turned in another street. Scary and very aggressive that kept chasing me.’
    5. 19/8/21 – ‘I was swooped from behind and was hit on the side of the head. If I had turned slightly it would have been my eye. This is terrifyingly. I get swooped almost daily. Surely enough is enough. Do we have to wait until someone looses an eye to sort this out. If this was a dog it would have been put down by now!’
    6. 27/8/21 – ‘Magpie swooped and pierced the back of my head whilst I walking up the street. I had blood, now bruise, headache and a very sore head. Very scared to walk this way again without protection.’
    7. 29/8/21 – A strong hit to the right side of my head and continued to swoop. Feeling very shaken and bleeding heavily from the wound I sought medical advice. GP took it very seriously explained would was a hematoma which is a good thing as it means no skull fracture which is not uncommon. It was cleaned, tetanus shot and antibiotics required. Panadol for headache, heat pack for neck whiplash recommended. Drs certificate provided for 3 days if time off work needed. If it gets worse overnight, I need to come back in. $100 to see a GP on Sunday. Have a picture if helpful.’
    8. 31/8/21 – ‘Running around the oval. Kept running but it swooped at me three times. Made contact all three times and drew blood on two of them.’

    View photographs of injuries provided by local residents.

    There are also a similar number of attacks reported which did not result in injury.

    What Steps Are Being Taken and Why Do the Magpies Have to Be Culled – Are there alternatives?

    Lane Cove Council published the following on its website:

    “While it was hoped that the 2021 season would improve, unfortunately, the injuries are such that Council has continued to liaise with National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) about the options, particularly as the swooping season for this particular area ran from July to December last year. Council has now received approval from NPWS for a ‘Licence to Harm’ covering both the male and female magpie in Johnston Crescent which is valid from 1/9/21 to 1/12/21. Council has nominated a licensed animal control contractor, who was included in the application, to carry out the cull.

    Unfortunately, relocation of the birds is not possible as the ‘NPWS Policy on Management of Native Birds that Show Aggression to People’ stipulates that ‘If removal of a bird is warranted, then destruction of the animal is the only option that will be considered’.

    As part of the NPWS process, Council is required to notify residents by letter prior to the proposed cull as well as make sure that appropriate signage is in place during the cull of up to two birds.

    This is the first magpie cull in recent memory and is one that Council hopes is an isolated case.”

    Councillor Andrew Zbik asked the Lane Cove Council for further information, and they advised him as follows:

    “Lane Cove Council has advised:

    • Council DOES NOT have authority to remove ALL the magpies from or around Johnston Crescent.
    • NSWP&WS have identified what they believe to be TWO aggressive magpies.
    • A cull of the two identified magpies can ONLY take place if and after the contractor has OBSERVED themselves aggressive behaviour.

    I hope you can see I have been helping today to answer questions around this situation. It is not an outcome that I personally wanted to see.

    This is a highly restricted and controlled process. The process is there for a reason, and it has been managed by people with the right skills and qualifications to decide the outcome.”

    National News

    Lane Cove Council’s plan to take action on the magpies has resulted in national attention, and all the major news outlets ran stories about the Lane Cove magpies on Wednesday 8th September 2021.  See ABC’s coverage here.
    The decision created so much controversy that the ABC Sydney Facebook Page had to turn off commenting on the post.

    How Do I Stop A Repeat Attack?

    According to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage:

    If a magpie swoops at you:

    • Walk quickly and carefully away from the area, and avoid walking there when magpies are swooping.
    • Make a temporary sign to warn other people.
    • Try to keep an eye on the magpie while walking carefully away. Magpies are less likely to swoop if you look at them. Alternatively, you can draw or sew a pair of eyes onto the back of a hat and wear it when walking through the area. You can also try wearing your sunglasses on the back of your head.
    • Wear a bicycle or skateboard helmet. Any sort of hat, even a hat made from an ice cream container or cardboard box, will help protect you.
    • Carry an open umbrella, or a stick or small branch, above your head but do not swing it at the magpie, as this will only provoke it to attack.
    • If you are riding a bicycle, get off it and wheel it quickly through the area. Your bicycle helmet will protect your head, and you can attach a tall red safety flag to your bicycle or hold a stick or branch as a deterrent.

    If you know of a magpie hotspot and have been swooped once or twice in the same area, avoid that area. According to research, magpies can recognise your face. Magpies use facial recognition to repeatedly attack the same person, and they may even know where an individual lives if they want to victimise them easily.

    According to an article on ABC online, you should try and make friends with a magpie. They quote Gisela Kaplan, emeritus professor in animal behaviour at the University of New England and author of Bird Minds.

    Professor Kaplan is of the view that a magpie “will only swoop when he doesn’t know somebody. We know that magpies remember and recognise human faces, and they will remember them for years,”

    Dr Kaplan said that once a magpie knew you and judged you to be a nice person, you will have a friend for life.

    “They will form very long friendships, like dogs,” she said.

    The last time we raised magpie swooping on In the Cove, we were advised that Kenneth Street, Burns Bay Reserve and Blackman Park were places where magpies like to nest in Lane Cove.

    Since the decision to cull the magpie became public, we have received some beautiful photos of magpies interacting with humans.

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