SYDNEY: As winter draws to a close in Australia, it brings with it the sunny skies and pristine weather conditions that see tourists flock to the country to take advantage of the shifted seasons in the southern hemisphere.

But, every year at this time is also the season that every Australian walking down tree-filled paths dreads - the beginning of the magpie swooping season.

The Australian magpie, a bird native to Australia, is - according to official reports from the Australian government - able to smell fear, and swoop in and attack any animal, including humans, who get too close to their nests during their breeding season, which runs from late August to October.

Magpies have large, pointed beaks, and use them to attack unwitting pedestrians, and their animals - with many people already reporting injuries because of the ferocious nature with which these bombarding birds behave.

This has led to Australians devising a number of methods to deal with the aerial onslaughts, from wearing ice cream containers on their heads with drawn-on eyes, to simply waving a stick above their heads to appear larger as they run fearfully from the dive-bombing birds.

A dedicated twitter feed and website - magpiealert.com - has been established to document all reported attacks, with hundreds of posts daily that are then compiled into a map for those who wish to avoid being hit as they go about their day.

However, even as media reports across Australia have warned people to be vigilant of the threat of these “dangerous birds”, Professor Gisela Kaplan of the University of New England, a world-renowned expert in their behaviour, said recently that the birds were not attacking, but rather trying to warn people to stay away.

“Swooping behaviour is a defensive behaviour and a warning.

"A warning to others to say that you are getting too close to the nest,” Kaplan said.

“If people do nasty things to them - then they do attack.”

Kaplan, who wrote a best-selling book about the Australian magpie, said that magpies were highly intelligent creatures who before nesting, undertook a risk-assessment profile of their surroundings, and would note the characteristics of people and their pets, and not swoop on them despite them being within their nesting territory.

The trouble begins though when magpies nest in public areas according to Kaplan, and is exacerbated by the fact that if someone does mistreat, or intentionally tries to harm a magpie, the territorial birds are able to remember the faces, and characteristics of that person years later, and will attack on sight. 

-Xinhua