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Bird of Prey

Me and the birds, I think we just got off from wrong foot from the very start. Or is that the wrong claw? I’m not sure. But it seems we’re destined not to get along.

It started at age five when I got pecked on the head by an emu. We were at Billy Goat Hill, this park in my hometown. There were no Billy Goats to be seen but instead plenty of kangaroos, wallabies and emus. Families would flock to the Hill on weekends for barbeques, then feed leftover scraps of food to the wildlife. I was a little tacker and quite unconvinced by the flimsy barrier of chicken wire seperating me and this emu with the beady red eyes.

Go on, chuck him some bread! said my stepmother encouragingly.

I wrinkled up my nose.

Come on, he’s a friendly fella!

He was making grunting noises deep in his throat, his eyes darting from side to side. I was sure he could smell my fear, perhaps the wooly hairs on his spindly neck were full of fear-sensing sensor thingies. I trembled and stepped back from the fence, but the emu thrust his head forward and made a grab for the bread, but missed and pecked my head instead.

There was no real damage done, at least not in the short term. Perhaps we can now attribute my various neuroses and inability to find a new job to the brain damage inflicted by that evil bird.

run for your life!

Growing up on a farm, the most common feathered enemy was the magpie. As much as I welcomed the glorious warmth of springtime, I knew it meant Magpie Season. All across the countryside, sqwarking magpies were hatching sqwarking magpie babies, and fiercly defended their offspring by dive-bombing all innocent passers-by.

We tried everything to deter them on our walk home from school. Funny hats, umbrellas. Some people say if you wear an icecream bucket on your head and draw eyes on it with a texta, the magpies will freak out and leave you alone. We tried this, running across an open lucerne paddock, and let me assure you, it does not work. We’d tiptoe through the long grass, glancing nervously at each other, hoping silently that this time we’d make it home unscathed. But then you’d hear a screech and they’d come spiralling out of nowhere, a black and white blur dropping right in front of your face, then soaring upward again.

A particularly vicious magpie lived in a tree just outside our yard. Every morning and night we’d have to go out and feed our herd of pet lambs. We’d brandish two bottles of milk in each hand, so to feed as many lambs at once as possible, yelling at them to drink “faster! faster!” before the magpie realised we were there. But more often than not he’d come barrelling at us and we’d dive to the ground, the lambs prodding us with their snouts to make sure we were alive.

It was Rhiannon who came up with the ingenious solution of the skipping rope. I’d come out with the milk bottles, and she’d walk beside me with her skipping rope, whirling it around her head like a lasso. The evil magpie watched in confusion, but didn’t come anywhere near us.

The ploy worked for weeks, until the magpie got brave and rushed us. Rhiannon weilded the rope with great speed and precision. It whirred like helicopter blades. There was a great thunk, a few feathers and an alarmed Arrrrrrrrk! He survived the ordeal, but didn’t mess with us again.

swooped

Most terrifying of all was Plover Season. The plovers were pure evil and lived up the back of my little school. They would perch on a dead gum tree, assembled in rows like a choir. Around August, their chilling voices would rattle down through the pine trees and into the classrooms. Aaaaack ack ack ack

We’d drop our pencils and shudder. They cackled like the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. But instead of flying monkeys, we had big white monsters with spurs on their wings.

Plover Season coincided with Athletics Season. Athletics Season meant our little school was thrown into preparations for the Small Schools Athletics Carnival. Even the most uncoordinated clod (eg. yours truly) was forced to particpate. Training involved a twenty minute run every morning around the school perimeter. The Sadistic Bastard Principal and the Sadistic Bitch Teacher (who happened to be The Mothership at the time) would stand in the middle of the playing field with their arms folded, laughing and chatting and drinking cups of tea, while us students ran endless laps.

For the most part, the track was good, crunching through beds of pine needles, leaping over cow pats; but there was a large stretch of open space with nothing but a wheat crop and the old dead gum tree. At the sight of two dozen small running kiddies, the plovers would lift off their branches, Aaaaack ack ack ack! My heart turned to shit as they wheeled overhead. We’d squeak and squeal and dive to the ground as the sound of their wings rushed by our ears. Or we’d just run and run and run until we reached the safety of the pine trees.

One day I was on my third lap, red-faced and petrified as I trotted past my mother. I tried to communicate with her with my eyes. Please Mum, I know you’re my teacher and you’re not sposed to do me any favours, but please, don’t make me run up there again. Pretty please?

She took a slow sip of her tea and grinned maliciously. “Come on Shauna. You better pick up the pace, otherwise they’ll catch you and rip your hair off with their spurs!”

Forget performance enhancing drugs, all you need is to sick a flock of plovers onto any given Track team, and then you’ll break some world records.

It’s been years, but my sister and I still get a chill when we hear the wuh wuh wuh wuh wuh of rapidly flapping bird wings. Once we were in Sydney and walking along Darling Harbour when we heard that horrible sound, shrieked simultaneously and dropped to the pavement. It turned out to be a humble pigeon, but you can never be too careful.

duck for cover
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About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m an author, copywriter and old school blogger. I love telling stories about life and helping my clients to tell theirs. Find out more about me and how we can work together.


20 thoughts on “Bird of Prey

  1. Oh, my sides hurt from laughing!

    It brings back scary memories though! I once lost a good chunk of hair from one of those little black & white harbringers of death!

  2. Some people wonder why Collingwood Football Club called themselves Magpies. Finally we have the answer. Magpies are vicious, ruthless, scary sons of bitches.

    I’ll remember the skipping rope this year…

  3. You read my mind!

    Graham – the plovers like nesting in open areas – school ovals and the roof of any shopping center next to a car park is where they’ll be.

  4. I love your choice of pictures!

    The dinosaur ancestry of birds really seems to show through in Australia. Now I feel like I got off lightly when I visited NSW, only getting chased by a mad chicken.

  5. I’ve heard about the magpies down there – absolutely terrifying.
    Here one only has to worry about dying from a poutine-induced excess of cholesterol.

  6. It’s the unnatural Australian fauna, I’m telling you. Our birds are much better behaved, apart from the herring gulls, which have a remarkable likeness to blond Nazi stormtrooper types.

  7. ARRRGH!! magpies! once i was hit so hard by one little bugger that i dropped my bike and ran home crying. my dad had to go and get the bike. they attacked my dog all the time but she hardly even noticed!

    i used to walk through the vacant lot near our house swinging a plastic bag around my head in magpie season. thank god the plovers lived near someone else’s house.

    my brother was bitten by a wallaby when he was tiny. knowing him, i’m sure he deserved it. and the other had his hair pulled by a raucously grinning monkey.

    the sound of magpie wings coming in for the kill – yikes! the most scary sound ever!

  8. You were feeling particularly inspired today! Very, very funny…

    Since it is the only picture of you I have seen, I will forever see you as this five year old girl with a block cut head of red hair.

    Now I get to add the immage of that girl running laps while being divebombed by Plovers and Magpies. Though the Hitchcock stills are great it more brings to mind a Cohen brothers movie. Kind of disturbing but also very funny…it makes it hard to know exactly why your laughing.

    Just a great post today.

  9. Wasn’t The Birds on telly recently? I think I saw it in the guide.

    I too have been attacked by emus, plovers and magpies. What a scary lot of birds we have.

    I had my revenge on the magpie when it tried to swoop me. It hit my head with such force that it pretty much made itself unconcious. If I hadn’t been hurting so much, I probably could have given it a great kick.

    Please don’t tell the RSPCA.

  10. i had a pet magpie once. malachi. loved that bird. he’d hurl himself at me when he saw me coming outside with his food, very often digging his very, very long claws into my arm. he’d demand to be fed at least three or four times a day, sitting on the railing outside the laundry, shrieking and flapping his wings like a little baby. and one time, when he saw me come home, he ran across the lawn at me, flapping his wings and shrieking “kraaark krar krar krar krar kraaark!” at night, he’d sit outside my window and sing that gurgling, chortling kind of song that magpies sing.

    i miss him a helluva lot.

    and has anyone else noticed the sparrows in this town? we’re suddenly innundated with sparrows, insane little bastards. like lemmings with wings.

    and then there are all the cockatoos. so big. so white. so clean!

  11. And the galahs, what about then, eh?

    Cool picture choices, Shauna. Great story. What a childhood! I got attacked by swans in Perth last time, but we fended them off with legal notices and threats to post their phone numbers on telemarketing lists.

  12. hilarious! I was attacked repeatedly by magpies as a child – and once recently whilst riding my bike. I survived, but you should see my helmet – there’s a huge beak-shaped dint rather close to the soft flesh of my forehead.

  13. Fantastic entry, Miss Shauny! I’m still chuckling at the thought of dear little shauny running and running and running! – and the hitchcock pics? Pure genius. You rock.

  14. Heh, interesting that being attacked by terratorial birds during childhood is such a common point of reference.

    I too had my share of run-ins with plovers. My friend and I found that waving a large stick at the oncoming birds generally did the trick. Having got the upper hand, we thought – how close can we get to the nest? Then we found that stick waving only worked up to a certain point. Having got within 10 metres of the nest, we found ourselves pinned down in some bushes for what seemed an eternity (maybe 15 mins) before we sprinted in opposite directions (“it’ll confuse em”) to safety.

  15. I got attacked by a pie the other day at cycling…. I was riding alone! Then all of a sudden a bird came flying at me. The pie got stuck in my helmet and its wings were flapping. I then feel off my bike I got back on the cycled to the grass where I was again knocked off my bike. I then swore at the pie, alot and kicked at it and ran at it… It wouldnt go away I was so scared because it just kept on attacking me. I started to cry and scream for help. Like litteraly scream for help! I was being attacked by the bird! Then it knocked my down from my feet and I was in a fit, crying and screaming. Some boys that I knew then came along and saved me… The magpie flew away as soon as they came! I was so imbarrest and tormented that I cryed for 2 hours after the incident! To make it even worse my family has been paying me out by putting pictures of magpies in my room and in my bed etc.

  16. I got attacked by a pie the other day at cycling…. I was riding alone! Then all of a sudden a bird came flying at me. The pie got stuck in my helmet and its wings were flapping. I then feel off my bike I got back on the cycled to the grass where I was again knocked off my bike. I then swore at the pie, alot and kicked at it and ran at it… It wouldnt go away I was so scared because it just kept on attacking me. I started to cry and scream for help. Like litteraly scream for help! I was being attacked by the bird! Then it knocked my down from my feet and I was in a fit, crying and screaming. Some boys that I knew then came along and saved me… The magpie flew away as soon as they came! I was so imbarrest and tormented that I cryed for 2 hours after the incident! To make it even worse my family has been paying me out by putting pictures of magpies in my room and in my bed etc.

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