Protecting your baby is natural – and it’s the same for magpies. Here’s how to avoid their protective swoop.
Magpies are definitely not bloodthirsty monsters out to get us at this time of year. In fact, not all magpies swoop – thankfully!
The ones that do are just using their body language – beak clapping, whooshing above your head and screeching – to warn other birds, animals and humans to keep away from their eggs or newly-hatched chicks.
Magpies usually breed between August and October.
Females will typically lay between three and five eggs in early to mid-August and will sit on them for three weeks until they hatch.
It’s during these times that some males defend their nests – from the time the eggs are laid until the young birds are fledged. They will attack anything they consider to be a threat – from a sparrow to a dog to a human.
The good news is that an individual magpie will swoop for only about six weeks until their chicks are fledged and leave the nest.
Interesting fact: It’s true, magpies remember your face. They have excellent recall for faces and very long memories. So, if you’ve been swooped before, or even if you just look like someone they swooped last year, you’re likely to get the same treatment again.
How to avoid getting swooped
So what can you do to make it through magpie breeding season unscathed by a swoop?
If you’re out and about enjoying the warmer weather on your bike, walking your dog or going for a jog, the best way to avoid being swooped is to change your route.
Magpies only swoop within about 100 m of their nests, so it’s best for people to stay away from known magpie nesting areas.
Also, magpies usually go back to the same spot every year, so if there was a swooping danger zone on your route last year, it is likely to be there again this year.
Interesting fact: Local council’s often install signs in areas where swooping is regularly taking place, so keep a look out for them and try to avoid those places for a few weeks if you can.
If changing your route isn’t possible, here are some other tactics to avoid being swooped:
- Travel in groups, as swooping birds usually only target individuals.
- Carry an open umbrella above your head.
- Wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
- If you ride a bike, walk it through magpie territory or have a flag on the back of the bike that is higher than your head.
- Do not act aggressively. If you wave your arms about or shout, the magpies will see you as a threat to the nest – and not just this year, but for up to five years to come.
- Walk, don’t run.
- Avoid making eye contact with the birds.
- If you know of an area that has swooping magpies, put a sign up to warn passers-by.
Top tip: It is also best not to feed swooping magpies as this may only encourage swooping behaviour.
You can also keep track of recent attacks around South Australia and Australia, as well as record your own on Magpie Alert.
Bird-watching tip: Here’s how to spot a new magpie family – dad has a white back, mum and chick have grey backs, and the chick is the one with its head down, mouth open, screeching for food!
(Main image courtesy of Jason Armstrong)
This story was originally posted in August 2017.