Environment SA News

August heralds the start of Magpie swooping season

As springtime nears, so too does the breeding season of an iconic Australian bird, the magpie.

August heralds the start of Magpie swooping season
An Australian magpie. Photo source: Laurie Boyle

While they make a beautiful sound, warbling as the sun rises or falls, the behaviour of this distinctive black and white bird can be frightening during spring as some may become protective of their nests and young chicks.

Department for Environment and Water Principal Ecologist, Dr Karl Hillyard said magpies usually breed between August and October with females typically laying usually between three and five eggs in August to September and sitting on them for around 3 weeks until they hatch.

“Some male magpies defend their nests from the time the eggs are laid until the young birds are ready to fly, this is normally around 4 to 5 weeks after hatching, and they will attack anything they consider to be a threat, from another bird to a dog or a human,” Dr Hillyard said.

“Magpies are a very intelligent bird and have an excellent recall of 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 typically only defend their nests within about a 100 metre radius, so the best way to avoid getting swooped is to take a detour around known nest sites if you can.

“They aren’t malicious – it’s just the natural instinct of some magpies to defend their young. It can be hard to remember this when you’re being swooped, though.

“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.

“It is also best not to feed swooping magpies as this may only encourage swooping behaviour.”

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

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