• 'Magpies' by Ernest Smith; acrylic on canvas board 30×40.5cm (Image: Robin Gibson Gallery) (Ernest Smith)Source: Ernest Smith
They drop down on you beak first, like some kind of terrifying attacker with a knife on its face. But perhaps there's more to magpies than their anti-social behaviour in Spring...
Sophie Verass

9 Sep 2016 - 1:16 PM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2017 - 4:17 PM

No matter how sweet their chortle is or how much you love Collingwood Football Club, it's hard not to make enemies with a creature who scarred you for life while innocently walking home from school or harmlessly cycling to the local shops on a warm spring day.

As the seasons have turned and we look forward to lazily shading ourselves under prominent Eucalypt trees, we should lay down the sticks above our heads and make friends with these outgoing creatures. It's something Aboriginal people have been doing for many years and consequently, their relationship with magpies has protected them from attacks before googly eyes were glued onto the backs of hats. 

Adam Shipp, Indigenous Engagement and Training Officer at Greening Australian ACT and a proud Wiradjuri man has a love for this iconic Australian bird and their behaviours. 

"The magpie or 'garru, wibigang' in my Wiradjuri language is known as a beautiful bird," he told NITV. "They are often thought of as messenger birds who will bring you messages at certain times. They will often speak to you and you need to listen to them as the message they bring can be connected to our lore and spirituality."

"The magpie loves to talk and gossip. They start speaking early in the morning and continue all day chatting to each other. Whenever I walk, I often speak to the magpie, especially when they are busy nesting. I say, 'Garru nguyaguya milang mudyi', which means, 'Magpie, my beautiful friend'. This, I feel, puts the magpie at east and they realise I'm not a threat to them. I have not been swooped for a long time, since I was very young."

"Swooping or being swooped by the magpie can be a message in itself. If you are being swooped, it can mean to be wary of other people who may be trying to attack you behind your back."

"Swooping or being swooped by the magpie can be a message in itself. If you are being swooped, it can mean to be wary of other people who may be trying to attack you behind your back."

While it's unlikely that a lurking stranger with ill intent hangs around the bus stop down metres from the local IGA every four to six weeks during Spring, this sentiment does ring true, assessing the behaviour of these animals.

Magpies often live in tribes of up to ten or so birds, banded together in areas with reliable feeding and water availability. They are territorial about such places, and unlike timid fish who swim away quickly from snorkelers or hopping mice who scurry away at the sound of a footstep, these birds lack shyness and make it known that it is their land, as much as it is human settlement. If you get swooped, they're telling you that you're invading their privacy and if one bird doesn't give you this warning to 'get outta there', you're likely to be running into the rest of the mob if you continue on the path. 

Alternatively, for those whose Wiradjuri or local language is a bit rusty, this Magpie Alert website will help you steer clear of occupied areas. Tip-offs from victims of swooping, who are yet to make friends with their feathered neighbours are put up online as a warning.

But perhaps this resource will create more of a territorial divide between us and them? Rather than listening to each other, maybe we need to starting listening to what the magpies are saying.  


Artwork by Ernest Smith, a Wiradjuri man from Dubbo, NSW. Information can be found at the Robin Gibson Gallery.

For all the latest Indigenous news, features and video content at NITV like us on Facebook and Twitter

First graduates from Wiradjuri language course celebrated
Seventeen students made history this week as the first graduates of a Wiradjuri language program at Charles Sturt University.
The story of Dreaming Lhasa
A young Tibetan woman from New York City comes to Dharamsala, the exile headquarters of the Dalai Lama in India, in search of her roots.
150 years on, South Sea Islanders seek apology for Blackbirding
Australian South Sea Islanders will gather in Brisbane’s State Library of Queensland this weekend to commemorate 150 years of blackbirding at their national Wantok forum