Environment SA News

Swooping season is at hand

Magpies singing at night and building nests means only one thing: spring – and swooping season – is just around the corner.

Swooping season is at hand
Magpies swoop to defend their nests from the time that eggs are laid until the young birds are fledged. (Image courtesy of Happy Photographer in line with Creative Commons licensing)

Department for Environment and Water Animal Welfare Manager Dr Deb Kelly said magpies usually bred between August and October.

“This year, spring seems to have come early for our magpies, as we’re already hearing reports of magpies swooping in some areas,” Dr Kelly said.

“They’ve been singing at night, collecting nesting material and holding little street meetings to work out territory for the past month or so.

“Female magpies usually lay three to five eggs in early August, then sit on them for three weeks.

“The males defend the nests from the time the eggs are laid until the young birds are fledged, and they will attack anything they consider to be a threat, from a raven or a dog to a human.

“Magpies 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.

“They aren’t malicious – they’re just defending their young. It can be hard to remember that when you’re being swooped, though.

“They only defend their nests within about a 50m circumference, so the best way to avoid a visit from the black and white bombers is to take a detour around known nest sites if you can.”

Dr Kelly said magpies weren’t the only birds that swooped during spring, but they did have the worst reputation thanks to their large beaks and sharp claws.

“Magpies also seem to be the only species that ever deliberately make contact,” she said.

“Masked lapwings also defend their nests. They are black, white and grey birds with yellow beaks and legs, and you’ll often see them nesting in the grass on nature strips and school ovals.

“The difference with lapwings is that they swoop up from the ground when they feel threatened, so it can be quite startling if you don’t realise they’re there.”

Tactics for surviving magpie season

  • Avoid magpie nesting sites if you can, but if you can’t, try these tips:
  • Travel in groups if possible, 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.

More information about magpies and other swooping birds is available at: http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/Plants_and_Animals/Living_with_wildlife