Aggressive Bird Behaviour in the Garden

Willie Wagtail

Willie Wagtail

While working in the garden yesterday morning I was suddenly alerted to a noisy confrontation nearby. Our resident Willie Wagtails love to frequent one particular spot where there is an abundance of insects.

Suddenly a New Holland Honeyeater dived in to reap his share of the smorgasbord. The Willie Wagtail became quite aggressive, fanning his tail up high, ruffling the feathers all over and calling in what seemed to me to be in quite an angry – perhaps even distressed – way.

The honeyeater retreated to a nearby tree, only to swoop in repeatedly over the next few minutes. Each time the honeyeater would snap at the Willie Wagtail, zip away a metre or so, grab another insect, and retreat hurriedly to the refuge tree.

These attacks seemed to trigger even more aggression in the Willie Wagtail who decided to front up to the interloper. They then faced each other at about ten paces (bird step size – about 10cm) angrily calling in each others’ face. One last beakful of food and the New Holland Honeyeater decided that other parts of the garden were more attractive anyway, and it flew off. The Willie Wagtail continued to feast contentedly on his little patch.

Further reading:

This post updated in September 2015.


New Holland Honeyeater

New Holland Honeyeater


12 Responses to “Aggressive Bird Behaviour in the Garden”

  1. […] For details of the previous battle click here. […]

  2. Robin salisbury says:

    I now believe ravens definitely swoop in AustraliaI. I had an rake upstretched knocking off loose bark on a 15m gum tree . As I did this a raven came swooping down at me.This happened repeatedly with a second raven joing in from a different direction. The last time, minutes later it was chased off by my friendly willywagtail. The following morning while I was stooping down to weed the lawn I received a thump on the back, twistd my ankle as I fell forward and looked around to see the raven disappearing and making his dreaded noise. A pair regularly sit high in the gum tree but there is no obvious nest. They seem to be very patient and wait for an opportune moment,then swoop down wings flappipng wildly anytime I appear in my garden. I now keep a watchful eye out anytime I venture into the garden.

    • Trevor says:

      Hi there Robin,

      Thanks for visiting and for sharing your unusual experiences with ravens. This is most unlike raven behaviour in my experience.

      I’ve checked through all of the entries on ravens in HANZAB (Handbook of Aust NZ and Antarctic Birds) which is a thorough compilation of all the research and literature on our birds. There is no mention of them ever swooping, so your observation is quite unusual and significant. Thank you for sharing.

    • annemarie says:

      I came accross this site when looking…I have crows or raven hassling me again but more aggressive now.
      Last year they were nesting outside my window in a gum tree,and I drove them out, was a nightmere,they woke me every day at 5am and back at 5.10pm..
      I used audio,and visual..finally winter was quite ish.
      Recently they started aggressively culling other birds who had taken up residence in surprised morning attacks..these minors I think,fought back hard,and I was out there yelling at the cullers.
      I still have the beautiful other birds around however.this weekend I have been subjected to 5
      Am noise waking me up,and swoop attacks.
      They turned up quitly and bam they were right in front of me,two of them,all I saw was them close up and felt their wings with the wind,and heard there wings…I’m terrified…
      They won’t go away…I’m terminally ill..I don’t need this…they attacked my dog,scaring him also..
      I need help..I have tried everything,hence them leaving the first time.
      Never have I been swooped on by a bird…but these Raven/ crows been so insistent..
      I’m scared..and they won’t leave..I have there droppings everywhere too..
      Why don’t they just go.The noise also is driving me mad..I hate them now :'(

  3. June says:

    The willy wagtails n our garden have suddenly become very aggressive making a walk around the garden hazardous as they swop in nearly touching our heads worried about small children. What can we do

    • Trevor says:

      Hi June,

      I am sorry that I didn’t answer your question at the time. Somehow it slipped through with the many comments I get. The Willie Wagtails must have a nest somewhere near and they are just protecting their eggs or young. Things will return to normal once the young leave the nest.

  4. Magdalene says:

    Hi Trevor,

    From this rainy morning, a female magpie (with grey feathers at the back) keeps running around in the far back of my backyard in Adelaide. It is an unusual sight as few magpies come to my garden. After lunch my husband saw it pooed on the garden table that was placed on the lawn to be washed by the rain, so he chased the magpie around but it refused to fly away. When he told me about this, I said the magpie must have a damaged wing to prevent it from leaving our garden.

    So I looked carefully, and sure enough, the magpie’s left wing on the outer most part is hanging down, probably exacerbated by the weight of the rain on its feathers. After the chase, the magpie looks very frightened and wouldn’t stop running around like mad. It keeps looking up the fence and the shed, as if to calculate if it could fly that high. I didn’t witness any bird fights. Perhaps it happened much earlier in the morning.

    So I broke some weetbits and placed it on the lawn in a shallow dish. The magpie came to eat some.

    Would you please advise me how I could help this magpie in healing the wing, in providing food and perch? It doesn’t look like it would come close to me. Thank you.


  5. Kathy says:

    We had a lovely tame Willy wagtail. It sat on the back of a chair looking at us through the window.
    She/he was feeding 3 hungry chicks so I helped it with special insectivore mixed with meat until the little ones left
    the nest. There’s about 9 Honeyeaters that frequent our garden and love having a dip in the bird baths along with spoggies! We realised that when we called Willy, the Honeyeaters were alerted and they were very aggressive
    towards Willy and attacked him. We were a bit sad that Willy seemed to disappear but it’s visited us a couple times with it’s mate and recently I saw it some distance from the house and I know it was our little pet because when I called it, it ran toward me. I used to say ,”are you hungry?” and often it would open its beak! We miss it but I wouldn’t be surprised if it will come in Spring again for help to raise its chicks! I think the Honeyeaters drove it away!

  6. Kathy says:

    I forgot to add that I found her nest and when she saw me coming closer for a photo, she very gently sat on her 3 babies. She made no effort to try to chase me away or swoop because she knew I wasn’t a danger to her.

  7. Roy says:

    Hi Trevor

    We have, twice now,witnessed & broken up assignation where one of our Willy Wagtails being held down on it’s back & attacked by 6 & then later 8 aggressive New Holland Honeyeaters.
    We broke up the very one-sided fight each time but dive bombing & other intimidating aggression is being carried out by the Honeyeaters.

    Have you ever encountered such organised stacks before?

    Roy Adlam

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