Environment SA News

It's magpie swooping season

Spring means stealthy magpies swoop with a startling swoosh.

The dive-bombing birds use this scare tactic for only four to six weeks during breeding season and is the male magpie’s natural instinct to protect chicks in his nest. 

Department for Environment and Water (DEW) Principal Ecologist, Wildlife, Dr Karl Hillyard 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 ready to fly, and they will attack anything they consider to be a threat, from another bird or a dog to a human,” Dr Hillyard 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 50 m 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 Hillyard 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,” he said.

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 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.  

Like what you just read? Stay up to date with all news from the department by subscribing to Environment SA News.