'No excuse': Expert urges 'unethical' magpie cull to be stopped

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Plans to kill a pair of nesting magpies have been slammed as “outright unethical” by a world-renowned wildlife expert.

University of New England’s Professor Gisela Kaplan, said Lane Cove Council’s plans to kill up to two birds after a number of documented swooping incidents will not fix the problem.

Humans can be quick to place the blame for negative encounters with wildlife at their feet, she argues, but often it's our own behaviour that's causing the problem.

A leading magpie expert says there is no reason to cull swooping magpies. Source: Getty
A leading magpie expert says there is no reason to cull swooping magpies. Source: Getty

This “mistake”, she says, has occurred throughout Australia’s history, with emus, kangaroos, currawongs and Tasmanian tigers all persecuted after settlers moved into their territories.

An author of 12 books, including a CSIRO publication on the biology and behaviour of the Australian magpie, Professor Kaplan said the species will usually only become aggressive when taunted by humans.

Swiping umbrellas, throwing stones and other violent behaviours can lead to swooping by nesting magpies as they try to protect their babies from a perceived threat.

“They’re excellent parents, they’re very caring and fair, and they won’t ever leave a youngster behind, even if it’s injured and can’t get off the nest,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“On one occasion I had to cut a young magpie that had been caught and couldn’t leave the nest.

“The parents were watching, and they could have swooped me, but they could tell I wasn’t going to do any harm to that bird.”

Magpies can be trained not to attack humans

Swooping behaviour will only continue across a four-week-period, and Professor Kaplan believes humans should be able to restrict their movement away from the nest, and adapt to the short “inconvenience”.

Magpies are dedicated parents who can be trained not to harm people, Gisela Kaplan argues. Source: Getty
Magpies are dedicated parents who can be trained not to harm people, Gisela Kaplan argues. Source: Getty

What’s more, Professor Kaplan believes that magpies, known to be a highly intelligent species, can be taught not be be aggressive.

“You can train magpies very easily to be very pleasant birds,” she said.

“Our expectation is if we fling something at a bird, the result will be that the bird will stay away, but the magpie is assessing the risk for its nest.

“If that behaviour of humans looks aggressive and dangerous, therefore the person is then declared an enemy, and they may in fact pursue that person further.”

Council responds to injuries inflicted on residents by magpie

Residents around Johnston Crescent and Tantallon Road have reported being being swooped a number of times this year, and have documented eight cases which resulted in injury.

Lane Cove Council told Yahoo News Australia earlier this month that it was seeking approval for the cull because the situation was believed to be "escalating", and that current laws do not permit relocation of the birds.

“We all know that swooping season is part of Australian life however unfortunately the injuries being sustained by local residents in this particular area have lead us to explore our options,” a council spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia on September 8.

Lane Cove Council has shared images of residents injured after being swooped by a magpie. Source: Supplied
Lane Cove Council has shared images of residents injured after being swooped by a magpie. Source: Supplied

Council was successful in applying for a licence to harm both the male and female magpies, a move which Professor Kaplan said is particularly unwarranted given that female birds are highly unlikely to swoop.

Wildlife advocates have suggested two simple solutions that do not involve killing either bird.

If the magpies have already bred, the babies could be removed and given to a carer, and if they haven’t the parents could be put into care for a week and then released and their behaviour would likely mellow.

Lane Cove Council did not respond to a question by Yahoo News Australia about these options and directed enquiries about whether the cull would be delayed to their website.

Thousands sign online petition to stop magpie cull

Criticism of the cull has continued to simmer online, with one petition calling for it to be halted accumulating over 15,000 signatures.

Describing council’s plan as a “sickening and brutal knee-jerk reaction”, Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst has urged the council to pursue non-lethal action.

"It's absolutely shocking that the council has ignored the community outcry and recommendations from experts for non-lethal alternatives," she told Yahoo News Australia on Friday. 

"There is absolutely no excuse for this killing to go ahead. I am still calling on the council to come to their senses and cancel the kill."

Common bird species no longer common, experts says

Professor Kaplan believes licences to harm, issued by NPWS, undermine protections afforded to Australia’s native species.

The characterisation of some birds as “common” has led to a perception that they are not valuable, but many species including magpies are now declining in numbers, she argues.

Large flocks of birds like parrots, zebra finch and ducks are often incorrectly believed to be a sign of abundance, but Professor Kaplan believes that is misconception.

Continuing to cull birds when they inconvenience humans she says is a "policy for extinction".

“The fact of the matter is that these birds flock together in in a desperate attempt to find a place where they can survive,” she said.

“Birds like corollas move across the entire continent just to find a place where it's either not too hot or too dry and and there’s some food.”

“We are seeing a massive decline of all native species and it seems to me this is not the time to start culling wildlife.”

Rules around managing native birds which show aggression towards people are set to be reviewed by NSW NPWS before the end of the year.

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