Victoria’s main eye hospital has asked authorities to remove a juvenile magpie from a regional shopping centre where it has left people with severe eye injuries, as part of an apparent scare tactic to obtain food.
Retired businessman Mr James Glindemann, 68, is the latest victim in a string of attacks by a single magpie near the Gippsland Centre in Sale, about 200km east of Melbourne.
As he sat down to eat lunch on Tuesday 13 October, Glindemann said he was having a one-way conversation with the young magpie before it lunged at his left eye, causing a penetrating corneal injury.
Initially stunned, he gathered himself but didn’t think much of the attack. He was still holding the food when the bird launched again, this time causing minor damage to the skin of his right eye lid.
“It was all over in a split second and the magpie was back on the ground again. I’d dropped my food this time and could still vaguely see, so I picked it up and went to my car to eat the rest of my lunch,” he said.
“By the time I got there I had difficulty seeing the lock and had to open the car by feel. I went to look in the mirror to see what the damage was, and I couldn’t see, it was total fog.”
Glindemann called triple-0 and was taken to Central Gippsland Hospital. They deemed his left eye injury serious enough for him to be flown to The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne. Blood from the right eye lid injury obscured his vision, but this didn’t not require treatment.
Ophthalmology registrar Mr Thomas Campbell helped repair Glindemann’s penetrating eye injury.
He said several people had been attacked in the Sale area in recent weeks, which had caused eye injuries – some of those severe. The same culprit has been suspected in each case.
“It’s a bird that’s leaned a response to try and get food from people. When people are sitting at this park bench with food it will jump at their face to try startle them so they will drop their food and eat it,” he said.
“This is very unusual behaviour, I’ve never heard of it before with magpies – it wasn’t a territorial swoop attack, it’s quite distinct from that.”
Campbell, who has an interest in eye injuries caused by magpies and has collected data on RVEEH presentations since 2012, said the hospital had asked the local council to put up signs and remove the bird. He also advised people in the area wear hat and eye protection, and avoid antagonising the bird.
“I’m from Queensland and when I first moved to Victoria, I was stunned at how many cases there were. That’s why I have collected this data, and presented it at some conferences,” he said.
“We get roughly 60 [eye injuries involving magpies] a year, and some years we have had up to 120, and it’s almost all during this season from July until October. At that time we can have several a week, and during the peak season we can have one a day – they seem to occur in clusters.
“We have had very severe injuries in the past, normally one per year, but most of the time the injuries are relatively minor with lacerations or scratches to the surface of the eye or the eye lid skin.”