Council's new policy after magpie swooping tragedy sparks debate

Following the tragic death of an infant in a Brisbane park last month, when her mother tripped, avoiding a swooping magpie, Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner promised an independent review into the council’s management of this ongoing issue.

Five-month-old Mia died after her mother, Simone, fell while trying to avoid a swooping magpie.

A report by KPMG into the incident has now been released, recommending the council change its policy based around keeping birds, such as magpies, in their native habitat.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, a spokesperson for the council said "its long-standing procedures revolved mostly around using signs to warn people about swooping birds".

"The reforms ordered by the Lord Mayor will result in experts with a species-specific permit issued by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science being contracted more often to assess whether a bird should be removed.

A five-month-old girl died in a horrific swooping incident. Source: GoFundMe
A five-month-old girl died in a horrific swooping incident. Source: GoFundMe

"This will occur whenever a bird demonstrates dangerous behaviour and restricting public access to their nesting isn’t practical. Whenever a swooping incident results in serious injury, experts will be called in."

Speaking to 4BC Radio Brisbane following the release of the report, Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner said: “Until now that was something appropriate".

"But now a baby has been killed and we can’t look at things in the same way. We don’t want to see it happen again.”

Magpie guidelines nothing new

Procedures already exist in Queensland, and other states, which allow for the removal of magpies when they’re causing a nuisance or pose a danger to the public.

A spokesperson for The Department of Environment and Science in Queensland says it has policies in place for relocating problem magpies and says people experiencing issues should contact their local council.

Councils have a duty of care to ensure the safety of anyone on council-owned and managed land, including sporting fields and parks.

Close up of an Australian magpie in its native environment. Souce: Getty images
Experts debating best way to manage swooping magpies in public areas. Souce: Getty images

Where a magpie is potentially dangerous, councils can have the bird assessed by a bird relocation specialist to determine whether it should be removed. Bird relocation businesses can only operate if they have a permit issued by the DES.

According to the DES, under its policy “magpies are captured quickly and in a humane way, using an approved trap, with a decoy bird, which triggers a territorial response in the magpie.”

Problem magpies can then be transported at least 50 kilometres away (in a straight line) and, where possible, at least 10km from the nearest human settlement.

According to information on the Department’s website "the magpie is unlikely to return to its point of capture".

"If the young chicks have reached maturity, removing the male bird doesn’t put them in any danger of being attacked by predators and the female bird will quickly pair up with another new male, who will adopt the chicks as their own," the website says.

Relocating birds proven not to work

Ornithologist, Professor Gisella Kaplan, who has been studying magpies for twenty-five years, says the report commissioned by Brisbane City Council shows “they don’t understand the first thing about magpies” and is concerned “rulings are being made in ignorance.”

Whilst she sympathises with the position the council is in, she says relocating birds simply doesn’t work.

An Australian magpie swooping through the air in defence it's nest.Source:Getty images
Australian magpies notorious for swooping in Spring. Souce:Getty images

“Although several scenarios are possible, magpies are territorial and it takes them five to ten years to find a ‘home’ and a partner, with only fifteen per cent successfully breeding each year.

"It has been proven that even If you remove a male up to sixty kilometres from their territory, that magpie will fly back. It’s like a dog.

"It will find its way home and as quickly as possible. If, in some cases, there’s another male magpie that takes over the territory and pairs up with the female, he won’t look after the young and they will starve.

"The male bird may even chase the female out; it depends individually on the bird.”

In 2019 a particularly territorial and aggressive magpie in northwest Sydney, responsible for seriously injuring several people, was euthanised after the Hills Shire Council made several unsuccessful attempts to relocate the bird. The council’s decision divided the community.

A protected and declining species

Last year Birdlife Australia reported a 31 per cent decline in the magpie population along the east coast, with further declines expected due to issues such as climate change and loss of habitat.

Dr Kaplan also considers magpies a native species in decline.

“On top of stealing all their territories for real estate development, we then kill them because they’re a nuisance.

"If we continue, we won’t have any left in fifty years time”.

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