Angry plovers have been getting a “buzz” out of disrupting – even for brief moments – the lives of visitors to the Waterworks Reserve in recent weeks.
It’s a familiar story across the parks and paddocks of Tasmania at this time of the year. Walk across open space and sure enough the plovers will squawk noisily and then take to the wing to feign attack.
I saw feign attack because the plovers never inflict damage or injury. The aerial bombardment is merely meant to drive away anyone approaching too closely to their eggs or young hidden in long grass.
Attack time usually comes at the end of winter or the first weeks of spring. This is the time when the plovers – or masked lapwings to use the scientific name for them instead of the Tasmanian vernacular one – are in the midst of the breeding cycle.
A bout of flu curtailed my daily visits to the reserve at this time of year, when bird activity is in a frenzy with migrants arriving and courtship rituals of both resident and travellers are in full flight, and I thought I had missed seeing the lapwing chicks, bundles of pied feathers on long, spindly legs.
A raucous cry, and then a swooping lapwing, let me know this was not the case one afternoon when I had stopped on a reservoir embankment to view hoary-headed grebes in their spring mating plumage of white-streaked dark grey heads, replacing their drab brown of winter.
Although I knew from experience the lapwings meant no real harm, I have to confess that it was still an unnerving experience to have them thrashing about just above my head.
The name spur-winged plover indicates they really do have spurs on joints of their wings but suggestions these might be poisonous, like those of the platypus, are unfounded. He spurs are more likely used in combat and defence in territorial battles.
I might make light of lapwing attack but that other bird notorious for its brazen and bold behaviour – the magpie – must be treated with caution. That dagger bill can really cause damage and so any alarm cry from a magpie should be heeded.
Like the lapwing, the magpie is merely trying to protect its young – usually in a nest a little way off the ground and not on the ground itself – and is warning people to stay away.
It’s best to avoid known territories but if this is not possible – the magpies, say, are nesting along a busy street as they do in Clarence St in Howrah during some years – carry a stick to wave, or wear a wide-brimmed hat to shield the eyes.
I’ve known some people who have worn a crash helmet and read once of a resident in Queensland painting a face on his headgear, with an angry expression. This appeared to work a treat and all summer the pair of belligerent magpies terrorising a suburban street In Townsville gave this particular resident a wide berth.