But who needs bears when you can see a platypus?
December 9, 2013 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Do not return after an encounter. Australian magpies have an incredible memory (as with all members of the Corvid family, they are very intelligent) and will attack the same people again and again. It is also too bad if you happen to look like someone they attacked before. -- Thoughts on Australia fauna
posted by Chrysostom (45 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
So to summarize: if a magpie harasses you, remain calm, walk quickly out of its territory, and start a new life.

If only this applied to more animals than just the Magpies! : )
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:38 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

when has anyone ever called a platypus a 'water mole'?
posted by jcm at 12:39 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why not both?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:45 PM on December 9, 2013

Nicely written.

"No one can touch Australians when it comes to stretching a thimbleful of local history into hundreds of board-feet of laminated prose."
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:46 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ahhhh. Magpies!

"The dark truth is that magpies are crafty, unpredictable, individualistic, and really smart. And they really seem to hate bike helmets. You can sense the undernote of despair running through the chirpy official advice on how to cope with them"
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:49 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The article also reminds me of Wordshore's owl problem:

"At least one pair of homeowners has been driven to the despair of using an air horn to try to scare them off their new home in a tree right by the couple's window."

Thanks for posting this. Much enjoyed.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:52 PM on December 9, 2013

Fucking corvids, man...
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:56 PM on December 9, 2013

Ha ha the majestic bush turkey. My MIL solves the bush turkey problem by hanging dead brown snakes she finds on the road over her garden fence.
posted by olinerd at 1:16 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

In related news, I think my MIL has also solved the "annoying neighbor stopping by to visit" problem.
posted by olinerd at 1:17 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yeah "water mole" no.
posted by robcorr at 1:29 PM on December 9, 2013

My daughter's bush turkey, Claude, was particularly distressed to discover that one of the innovative art students had used his primary mound for mulching the front yard. Claude, like typical males of his species, spends his time working on two piles of dirt and leaf litter, one for display (hey, ladies look what a big one I have) and the other for actual nesting.

I remember the first time I came across one of these things as a kid - it was hidden in shady scrubland where nobody much but a free range kid would have a reason to go, and it was tall. Clearl not a natural event, I initially wondered (nancy drew, famous 5) if it was a grave, but where had the dirt come from? There was no hole and the mound was about a yard tall - from outside edge to centre top, it would have taken me 5 or 6 strides.
posted by b33j at 1:30 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Australian magpies aren't corvids. A good rule of thumb is that corvids (with only a few exceptions) have bristles covering their nostrils. (See this image for examples).
posted by Pyry at 1:32 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

I loathe magpies. I don't object when plovers swoop me, after all , they nest on the ground, which would make anyone nervous. But magpies nest high up in trees and have been living in suburbia for generations. When are those idiots going to work out that humans don't climb trees to steal their eggs?

I always wear a hat in magpie season: one day my son didn't, and came home with bleeding gashes on his head. This year I sewed large staring eyes on the top of my hat. Without eyes, the hat just stops you from getting hurt, but I *think* the eyes stopped them from swooping altogether. Will test again, next year.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 1:46 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Pyry, thanks for the clarification. The wiki article on Australian magpies said "both [Australian and European magpies] are members of a broad corvid lineage," so that led me astray. I'll correct the article next time I make a blog update.
posted by idlewords at 1:50 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

When are those idiots going to work out that humans don't climb trees to steal their eggs?

Interestingly, research has shown the majority of swoopers aren't nesting couples, but juvenile males. Like juvenile males across they animal kingdom, they are just little pricks.
posted by smoke at 1:57 PM on December 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

I have never called a platypus a water mole, nor have I heard this term used by anybody ever until now.

Bush turkeys really will ruin your life, though. We had a bunch living around the house we were in a couple of moves back, and they pecked holes in the wooden door (like thick drillholes), smashed panes of glass, and completely destroyed the trunks of two extremely expensive elephant ear palms. Also, whenever they got inside (we would leave the back door open for the cats), you would hear their big claws scratching around on the wooden floor. And then TINK TINK TINK TINK TINK as they consumed every morsel of food in the cat bowl. Run in to chase them away, and they would shit voluminously about five times before you eventually got them out.
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:58 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also they are not called "little ravens", they are called "crows". I have never been swooped by a butcher bird or a plover. I am 100% behind the author's summation that Queenslanders are mostly stupid and dull, however, and agree that the animals were here first, have few victories of their own, and if a possum or some fruit bats set up camp temporarily in what trees you haven't already cut down around your property, you need to learn to deal.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:03 PM on December 9, 2013

Finally, this is a nice little blog, and thanks for the link.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:09 PM on December 9, 2013

Oh plovers can swoop turbid. They have spurs on their wings. It's quite entertaining really - they mostly bluff, but they come in low, not from above like magpies and currawongs. So you see them coming in and then they whip past you.

That piece was a bit... hmmm. It's always a bit awkward reading outsider impressions of your country, I think. A bit like seeing someone else wear your clothes. Like a lot of travel pieces, the author is mainly swimming through his own ideas about Australia (rural, dangerous animals, faintly ridiculous), with a few icecubes of reality bobbing past. (The idea that our largest extinct predator was the tasmanian tiger, and the devil is the largest currently, what the fuck. Heard of a dingo, mate? Also, largest ever would have been the carnivorous marsupial megafauna).

The funny thing is, his experience of rural QLD would approximate >95% of Australian's. No one lives there in particular, and no one, in general, lives in the country despite the huge role it plays in the national psyche.

As someone who grew up in a rural environment, I marvel at my partner's experience of the Australian environment (practically nothing;she's never even seen a shooting star, I had to tell her that an hour of proper darkness would net you half a dozen or more); so different from mine - but I'm the outlier.

That said, when you come from rural QLD as I do, the land may possess a certain romance, but the fucking miasma of bigoted, narrow-minded, racist, homophobic, pig-shit ignorant, climate change denying, Joh-worshipping stupidity that pervades the place takes a bit of the spackle off.

And cane toads. Good lord I hate cane toads.
posted by smoke at 2:18 PM on December 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

The dingo is an import, dude! But I'll be happy to upgrade the marsupial tiger to the marsupial lion, to try to make those ice cubes of reality more numerous.
posted by idlewords at 2:34 PM on December 9, 2013

I "lived" out bush for about 3 years, at boarding school in Charters Towers. And growing up in Townsville, we made plenty of trips up north to the rainforests. I remember visiting an actual honest-to-goodness tobacco plantation (mum and dad didn't smoke, we just went in for a sticky), and looking around the curing sheds. So lush. But yes, smoke, I agree that people who haven't properly experienced the bush, at at least some point in their lives, are really missing out.

I am sorry to report that I kill cane toads whenever I come across them. I have a machete, and have it down to a fine art, so to speak, so it is always quick and painless for them, but I still feel really shitty whenever I do it. It's not their fault at all, and they are in fact quite lovely creatures, full of character and, dare I say, personality. Some are extremely skittish, others are very lazy and carefree. But I'm afraid that all must die, as they do immeasurable harm to the Australian environment. More, in fact, than feral cats, and probably as much (I am loathe to admit) as people. The two cane toad documentaries are really fascinating, entertaining, and informative chronicles of these interesting critters.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

The dingo is an import, dude!

4-10 000 years is long enough for me to give them a pass.
posted by smoke at 2:42 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

That standard would make us native Australian animals, too. I veto the dingo!
posted by idlewords at 2:54 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

38 year old Aussie here. Never seen a platypus in my life (apart from documentary footage).
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 4:13 PM on December 9, 2013

jcm: "when has anyone ever called a platypus a 'water mole'?"

posted by Pinback at 4:35 PM on December 9, 2013

It is also too bad if you happen to look like someone they attacked before.

In all fairness to the magpies, all Australians look the same to me, too.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:48 PM on December 9, 2013

The Australian name for the beast—water mole [...]

Yes, and wombats are called "brown badgers", eucalypts are "skinny oak trees", and kangaroos are "tall rabbits". This is because we secretly long to live in a novel by Kenneth Grahame. Actually, most Australians have never seen a platypus outside a zoo for three reasons: 1) They're not actually all that common in built-up areas; 2) Australian streams tend to be brownish and are often turbid. Platypus spend most of their time underground or underwater; 3) Australia is drier than the devil's taint and good luck finding a stream in the first place. We didn't learn how to suck water from hibernating frogs for fun, you know.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:40 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

42 year old Aussie here. I've been to the viewing platform at Yungaburra as mentioned in the link, and have seen the local platypus (as well as others in Queensland and the ACT).

I should also add that while I'm generally a mild, peace-loving, Ultimate-Frisbee-playing Aussie with a great affection for the natural world, I instantly try to kill any cane toad I see. My Canadian spouse was quite surprised the first time I suddenly veered off the highway to squash one, but she gets it now.
posted by jjderooy at 7:48 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The dingo is an import, dude!

4-10 000 years is long enough for me to give them a pass.

That standard would make us native Australian animals, too. I veto the dingo!

Humans have been in Australia for over 50,000 years. I think we, as a species, count.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:49 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

That standard would make us native Australian animals, too. I veto the dingo!
posted by idlewords at 14:54 on December 9 [2 favorites +] [!]

MeFi's own!

I'm just commenting here to say that your piece Scott and Scurvy is one of my favorite articles on the Internet, and I keep forwarding it to people whenever the topic of the process of discovery in science comes up.
posted by Idle Curiosity at 8:04 PM on December 9, 2013

hundreds of board-feet of laminated prose

Oh, so true. What a fun piece of writing.

I, too, have never seen a platypus outside of the zoo, and I've only seen a couple of echidnas. But I do have a bunch of kookaburras living in the trees outside my apartment, less than ten minutes from Sydney's CBD.
posted by Georgina at 9:44 PM on December 9, 2013

Magpies are omnivorous. Little known fact I learned as a kid. Boy I was fascinated by magpies when I was a kid. Did you know they live 30 to 50 years some of them? At least as I can remember it was a while ago. My neighbor when I was a kid had a magpie who he had trained to talk. So one day I asked it if it actually liked to eat eggs. And it said "Yes."
I asked it all kinds of other things, but it was a young magpie and didn't know many things.

Anyway, we moved away a long time ago, 20 years maybe.

A few years back I revisited the old neighborhood and my neighbor was still there. Old guy now. Still has the magpie. It sat on a branch above us while we had a beer and talked about how things had changed and were changing and he said he was going to get a new electric car with some kind of motor components , the name of which I didn't catch.
So I said "you're getting the car with what engine?"
And he said "The engine?"
He's pretty hard of hearing nowdays. So I said, "Yeah. WITH WHAT!?"

And the magpie said "Bacon."
posted by Smedleyman at 9:47 PM on December 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

Nothing better than great writing about the country I love. Slightly exaggerated for effect I'm sure, but lots of fun.

The first lines in the Daintree post had me:

"The cassowary is a two-meter high bird with a large horn on its head, cankles, a red wattle, and a bright blue neck. The fact that it is well-camouflaged in the Australian rain forest tells you something about this remarkable habitat."
posted by estuardo at 10:07 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

As for Emu Steve, I do remember grabbing one by the neck after it stole my sandwich (do not do this.) I didn't expect to succeed, but when I did we stared at one other, equally surprised with the situation. I let go after a few seconds and we both went about our business as if nothing happened.
posted by estuardo at 10:15 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've never seen a platypus in the wild, for all the reasons above. But I have seen a lot of kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas and possums. Echidnas are the best! Like wind up hair brushes.

smoke: I didn't know that! Thanks :)
posted by Kaleidoscope at 10:55 PM on December 9, 2013

Looking forward to (potentially) seeing some platypus at the Tarkine at the end of the month. My first trip to Tasmania!
One of the sad things I heard was that the beautiful sound of the bell birds is actually a death knell for the eucalypts.
posted by asok at 2:53 AM on December 10, 2013

idlewords I really like your writing.
posted by compound eye at 4:57 AM on December 10, 2013

Btw, that's very true about ibises, as any schoolchild who's been to the Botanical Gardens can tell you. Those birds are bold and fond of sandwiches.
posted by Georgina at 5:07 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is beautifully written - actually, the whole blog is a trove of the most infectiously likeable stuff!

Lovely post - thanks so much.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:43 AM on December 10, 2013

Nice blog.

A few weeks ago my son was ready to ditch the training wheels, so while my daughter was having a piano lesson we stopped at the nearest park for a burl. As he was puttered down the path an orange flyer stapled to a tree caught my eye and just as I read the word "swoop" with one eye I saw the magpie clatter into my youngest's neck and helmet for the first of half a dozen times. He's confident he can stay on come-what-may now.

As we left a couple and their young child entered the park on their bikes and my son approached them to warn them. But they were familiar with the park and told him that the magpies only attack small children on bikes when they're by themselves.

Waddle giggle gargle paddle poodle my arse.
posted by hawthorne at 7:02 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's another Australian who has never heard of water moles before (but has seen one or two live wild platypus*).

I always enjoy reading or listening to foreigners' impressions of Australia, particularly when they're well-written like this (Other good ones which spring to mind: Bill Bryson, Billy Connolly...)
posted by illongruci at 8:30 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ooh, idlewords is here. Just wanted to post that I loved this essay, and that I really have enjoyed all the other illuminating writing you've shared on your website. You are a fantastic writer.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2013

Wonderful stuff, but: it's "platypuses". It doesn't matter what kind of root or origin a word has; once it becomes an English word it takes an English plural. Yeah, octopuses and stadiums and pajamas too.
posted by Fnarf at 2:27 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mouse/mice, goose/geese, sheep/sheep; the English rule is the exception. Playpodes forever.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:25 PM on December 10, 2013

Excuse me - I have a cane toad and I'm squeamish. Can someone come over and take care of the little blighter?
posted by b33j at 3:00 AM on December 15, 2013

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