Pesky plovers – dealing with swooping birds
Dealing with swooping birds is a topic that arises very frequently in newspapers, on television and on birding forums. During the spring here in Australia, our main bird breeding season, there are numerous complaints from people about aggressive birds. Most of these relate to Australian Magpies. The male aggressively defends the nest. Sometimes contact is made with the unfortunate person and blood is drawn. My own sister-in-law had a terrifying experience like this as a child.
A question from a worried reader:
I recently had a request for help from a reader concerning her children being attacked by plovers (Masked Lapwings). Here is what she said:
My 4 children (5, 7, 9 and 11) were attacked this morning by a group of plovers (a few pairs)they all have young at the moment. They were on their way to the bus stop and the plovers separated the children and were swooping and dive bombing them. They arrived back home shrieking and crying they were so unsettled by the experience. Having come on the internet to see what to do, I have read that they usually do not attack groups. 2 of my children lay on the ground to show they were not hostile. We do not have an alternate route to take. Any ideas on what we can do?
The experience must have been truly terrifying to the children. I have recently been bombed by a plover while walking near my home. This pair didn’t have young nearby but may have had a nest somewhere. It certainly unnerved me – and they only came to within about 3 metres.
Swooping plovers (lapwings) are a common problem throughout Australia. Rarely do they cause harm by actual contact but this has been known to happen. The spur on the wing has been known to inflict scratches. As your children discovered the unsettling nature of such an attack is just as traumatic as actual contact causing harm.
They have been known to attack in small groups but more commonly just the one pair attacks. The behaviour should stop after the breeding season is over.
I do not know of any fool proof system of solving your dilemma. Perhaps the children could wear cycling helmets to minimise any potential damage if struck. (This is an expensive solution if they do not have helmets.)
A cheaper alternative might be for the children to each carry a 50cm stick with a flag tied to the top – say a piece of cloth. Hold the stick above the head as the attack occurs. (This method works with magpies – I haven’t tested it with plovers).
Either solution does not take away the problem of the frightening noise made by the birds during an attack. The children may still be very unnerved even with some form of protection.
I am sorry that I do not know a better solution.
Over to my readers: Perhaps my readers may be able to suggest a better solution. Leave your ideas in the comments below. COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED.
UPDATE: Readers of the Birding-Aus newsgroup have contributed many ideas and comments on this problem. Read their suggestions in the comments section below.
UPDATE: Due to some comments suggesting illegal action on this article, comments are now closed. Sadly some people cannot seem to understand our laws relating to native birds.