It is magpie swooping season again throughout Australia where Australian Magpies are found. That’s pretty much everywhere in Australia. This species is usually quite happy to co-exist with humans and will go about its life quite independently of us. They are relatively common in urban areas and very common in rural and farming environments.
Some individual Australian Magpies, however, have a very aggressive behaviour towards people during the nesting season, swooping them if they come anywhere near to their nest. This is particularly troublesome to young children who are sometimes terrified by a swooping bird. The elderly are also vulnerable as this story relates. Sadly, the elderly man who fell from his bicycle trying to get away from a swooping magpie severely injured his head when he hit a fence. He later died in hospital.
While this incident had a tragic outcome, this is not normal. Certainly, many people are terrorised by nesting magpies. Some have incurred serious injuries as a result, including eye injuries. My own sister-in-law suffered serious cuts to her scalp during a magpie attack when she was quite young. I also seem to remember a newspaper report of a cyclist who, in attempting to avoid being swooped actually rode into the path of a car and was injured by the car but not the bird.
Over the years I have written quite a few articles addressing this issue. I have listed some of them below. Some of these articles give advice on how to avoid getting swooped.
I invite readers to add their comments on how they deal with swooping birds. Or, you can comment on experiences with pesky birds.
Good birding – and stay safe.
It’s magpie swooping time again.
At this time of year people in many places around Australia are ducking for cover. It is magpie swooping time again. Around July and onwards our Australian Magpies start building or refurbishing their nests ready for the breeding season. Once the female has laid to eggs she is the only one to hatch them. Meanwhile, the male keeps guard over his territory.
This species is highly territorial and disputes over their patch are hotly contested. On our five acre (2 hectare) property we have three intersecting territories, so the conflict can sometimes get quite boisterous. Once nesting commences, these bird wars calm down. You could say that they are real life “angry birds”.
The fighting doesn’t always end there, however. While the female is sitting on the eggs, or the young are being fed while still in the nest, the male can be very aggressive in guarding his territory against anything, or anyone, he sees as a threat to the success of his progeny. Animals – including dogs, cats, foxes – other birds, walkers, gardeners, joggers and anyone misguided enough to venture within a hundred metres or so of the nest are all fair targets. Cyclists are a particular object of attack.
The male magpie will usually wait until the target has passed by, and will then attack from behind, a swift, smooth, nearly silent swoop aimed at the head. A swoosh of the wings and a few snaps of the beak from less than a metre behind is often the only warning one gets. By then it is too late. If contact is made the result can be both frightening and bloody. Their sharp beak can inflict a nasty break in the skin, and in a worst case scenario they have been known to damage an eye.
Preventing being swooped
So – what can one do to prevent getting swooped? I recently read this great list which was published here in South Australia in Weekend Plus: a digital magazine for seniors.
“We do need to take care around them because they have sharp beaks and claws and if they make contact, they can draw blood.
“The good news is that swooping season only lasts about six weeks, beginning when the eggs hatch and finishing when the young birds leave the nest.
“The best way to avoid being swooped is to change your route if possible, as they’ll only swoop within 50m of their nests.”
More tips for surviving the spring swoop
- Avoid making eye contact with magpies.
- Walk, don’t run past their nests.
- Travel in groups where possible as swooping birds generally target individuals.
- Carry an open umbrella or wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
- If you’re riding a bike, walk your bike through magpie territory or attach a flag to the back that is taller than your head.
- Don’t wave your arms or shout – this just proves you are a threat to the nest.
- If you know of a swooping magpie, put up a sign to warn others.
- Do Blackbirds swoop? How to deal with aggressive birds.
- A bit on the nose – a humorous close encounter with a bird
- Magpies behaving badly
- Bird wars
- Aggressive bird behaviour in the garden