Environment SA News

It’s magpie swooping season

Magpies singing at night and building nests means three things: spring is near, breeding is happening and magpie swooping season is underway.

It’s magpie swooping season
The best way to avoid being swooped is to change your route. Magpies only swoop within 50 metres of their nests. Photo credit: Laurie Boyle

A magpie’s swooping can last for around six weeks and is the male magpie’s natural instinct to protect chicks in his nest.

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

“The males defend their 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,” Dr Kelly said.

“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 added that magpies weren’t the only birds that swooped during spring, but they did have the worst reputation.

“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.”

The best way to avoid being swooped is to change your route, but if that’s not possible, here’s some 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.

For more information visit DEW’s Good Living blog.