Magpie season: Why Australians hide from birds every spring

A magpie attacks a crow in flight during day 3 of the four day tour match between Cricket Australia XI and England in Australia on November 17, 2017.

(CNN)Geoff Maslen was riding his bike to the gym on a beautiful spring day in Melbourne, Australia when he started to feel something pinging off the back of his helmet.

At first, he was confused by the sensation, since it didn't seem to be raining. Then he realized a magpie was trying to ferociously stab the back of his head with its beak.
He wasn't surprised. Magpie swoopings are a regular occurrence across Australia during the spring months of September and October. According to Maslen -- author of "An Uncertain Future: Australian Birdlife in Danger" -- he got off easy.
    "A different magpie was attacking my friend, but realized that the helmet on his head wasn't going to (let him) cause him any damage, so he grabbed a piece of his ear as he swooped past, and he was left with blood pouring down his head," he said.
      For outsiders, it can seem strange that in a country famous for its dangerous wildlife -- from sharks to spiders and snakes -- that one of the most feared creatures is a handsome black and white bird just over a foot in length.
      In September, according to Australian media, a toddler in Perth narrowly avoided being blinded by a magpie after it swooped down and attacked his face as he sat in a pram.
      Also that month, a journalist in Melbourne posted a photo of himself with blood trickling down his face after he was struck "out of nowhere" by an angry bird.
        This season alone, there have been an estimated 3,000 swoopings, mostly between August and mid-October, resulting in about 400 injuries, according to the community-run Magpie Alert website.
        Yet despite the injuries and fear they cause every year, the magpie remains one of the country's most beloved birds. In December 2017, it was voted the Guardian Australia's Bird of the Year by a popular vote, edging out the kookaburra and the fairywren.
        "They're extraordinarily attractive birds," Maslen said. "They're very engaging birds, very intelligent and quite often they make friends, especially with those people who provide them with food."
        Sometimes relationships can go the opposite way however, he added: "There was a fellow in Brisbane who claims to have been attacked by the same magpie for 25 years."
        A magpie sitting on a hedge in Sydney in 2014.

        Swooping 'very common behavior'

        Despite its name, the Australian magpie bears no relation to the European species. The original British colonizers of Australia simply saw another black and white bird and named it accordingly, said Gisela Kaplan, emeritus professor at the University of New England in southeastern Australia.
        Kaplan has studied bird behavior for decades. She's a staunch defender of magpies, telling CNN the birds can have long friendships with humans -- provided you treat them correctly.
        "(Swooping) is actually a very common behavior among all birds ... The reason we normally don't notice it is that most songbirds are so small that even if they swoop we don't notice it," she said.
        Most magpie swoopings are done by male birds as a defensive act, when they perceive an unknown or threatening p