Magpie swooping season is here! Find out why they swoop and how you can try and avoid them.
Many species in the animal kingdom have the natural instinct to protect their young, and our favourite Aussie swopping-extraordinaire, the magpie, is no exception.
Although being swooped can be scary, the magpie’s reputation as being a bloodthirsty monster isn’t true. Continue reading to find out the best ways avoid their protective dive.
Why do they swoop?
Just like us, they are 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.
Females will typically lay between three and five eggs and will sit on them for three weeks until they hatch.As magpies mostly breed between August and October it’s during these months 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 this should only happen for about 6 weeks.
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 councils 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 then magpie dive:
- 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.
The magpie family
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!
Generally, magpies mate for life and only search for a new partner when one dies. It’s even been documented, males that connect with a female who already has eggs or hatchings will adopt their young and protect and feed them as their own.
Outside of breeding season, magpies can live in a group of up to 25 birds often called a ‘tribe’ or ‘tidings’.
Do you love birds? You might like our stories about birds of prey that you can see in SA, types of birds nests you might find your yard, or how to attract birds to your garden.
This story was originally posted in August 2017.