Environment SA News

Keep your head about you this swooping season

The transition from winter to spring means the weather is warming up, breeding seasons are starting and magpies will likely begin swooping to defend their young ones.

Keep your head about you this swooping season

Department for Environment and Water Principal Ecologist Karl Hillyard said magpie breeding season typically happened between August and October.

Females will usually lay between 3 and 5 eggs before sitting on them for about 3 weeks until they hatch.

“During this time, male magpies take up the role of the protector, with some using swooping as a tactic to defend their nests,” Dr Hillyard said.

“They will do this from the time the eggs are laid until the young birds are ready to fly, which is normally about 4 to 5 weeks after hatching.

“Although it can be frightening, swooping is nothing malicious. It is just part of a magpie’s natural instinct to protect their chicks.

“While not all magpies will swoop, those that do will attack anything they consider a threat, no matter if it’s another bird, a dog, or a human.”

Dr Hillyard said magpies were highly intelligent birds that had an excellent recall of faces and long memories.

He said people who had been swooped before were likely to be swooped again because magpies generally returned to the same area to breed every year.

“However, magpies typically only defend within about a 100-metre radius of their nests so you can avoid getting swooped by taking a detour around known nest sites if you can,” Dr Hillyard said.

Magpies are not the only birds that swoop during their breeding season, but Dr Hillyard said they had gained the worst reputation.

The best way to avoid being swooped is to change your route but, if that is not possible, here are some other tactics:

  • 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 a bird’s 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 or shout, the birds will see you as a threat to the nest – not just this year but potentially for years to come.
  • Walk, do not run.
  • Avoid making eye contact with the birds.
  • If you know of an area that has swooping birds, put a sign up to warn passers-by.
  • Don’t feed swooping birds, this may only encourage the behaviour.