The Misunderstood Australian Magpie – How to Avoid Magpie Swooping Season
We can and must learn to live in harmony with each other, but we have to be the ones to put in the effort.
Spring is just around the corner, which means Magpie Swooping Season. You hear about it on the news, read about it online; usually, these stories are unnecessarily exaggerating the topic with distressing headlines such as – ‘Killer Magpies,’ ‘Magpies Must Die,’ making them out to be Australia’s most dangerous animal. But here’s something to think about, according to Gisela Kaplan, Professor in Animal Behaviour, the most dangerous animal in Australia is an ant, the jumping jack – which kills more people annually than crocodiles (source).
“Magpies probably come in 150th or 200th place in terms of danger as a wildlife – it’s so insignificant it’s ridiculous” – Gisela Kaplan (source)
I always fear for the welfare of the magpies, especially this time of the year. Portraying these birds in such a way as to make them out to be blood thirsty monsters, only spreads fear and hatred towards them, this is not the correct way which we should be dealing with the situation. Nor is burying our heads in the sand and waking up one morning expecting the ‘close encounters’ to have miraculously stopped, which is never going to happen.
Only we have the power of making a change; we are the ones who have to put in the effort. It’s up to us to do that and stop targeting these birds because they may be a temporary ‘inconvenience’ to our lives for only a few weeks per year, whereas humans are constantly an inconvenience to their lives… Cutting down their trees which have nests, destroying their habitat, polluting their environment or hitting them with our cars.
Please try and give them a break. Magpies do not intentionally swoop for the fun of it like a sport. They have good reason to do so; it’s called brood defence. It only lasts around six weeks per year, between the months of August – November, when the eggs get laid until the young leave the nest.
Direct Injuries from Magpies Are Extremely Rare
The way Magpies often get portrayed, you’d think every one of them in Australia swooped, this is not the case at all. It’s mostly the father bird doing so 99% of the time, (as the mother is busy attending to the chicks in the nest) and less than 10% of these males become aggressive and swoop. It’s usually the case of ‘more fright than bite’ – rarely is there serious direct physical contact with the bird itself, this is something we should never forget.
“Savage magpie attacks are extremely rare, occurring in less than 1% of cases” – Professor Darryl Jones (source)
They See Us as a Threat (And for Good Reason)
Some protective father birds perceive humans as a threat, but you can hardly blame them. I’ve heard disgraceful stories of people threatening to go out and illegally harm magpies. They poison them, deliberately run them over, destroy their nests, throw things at them, torment and purposely provoke them to swoop; all for the individuals own amusement. I believe these people are the true monsters here, not the magpies.
These birds nesting areas, obviously have no physical barriers protecting them such as – walls, doors or fences, as our homes do, which give us that feeling of security and privacy. Their nests are out there in the open, available to countless dangers. Most chicks fall victim to snakes, goannas, birds of prey, domestic animals and sadly some humans. They don’t have the luxury of raising their chicks safely behind closed doors as we do.
“The best way to stop magpies from swooping is education. So we as humans don’t turn a normal bird into a swooping magpie in the first place” – Nigel Williamson
We Have the Same Family Values as These Birds When It Comes to Protecting Our Children
Imagine an intruder lurking around in your backyard or invading your home; you have an innocent baby nearby that you’d do anything to protect, you’re not even sure what the intruder’s intentions are – now how would that make you feel? Threatened, scared, raged? Now, what does your natural instinct tell you to do in this situation? Protect your child, of course, by any means, this is no different than to what a magpie parent would do to protect his child, and I wish some people would learn to respect that fact.
These birds can’t communicate with us in our language, so they try to tell us in the only way they know how, by using scare tactics to warn us away, such as – beak clapping, whooshing past above our heads and screeching at us. They are trying to give us that clear warning, “stay away from my area, I see you as a threat, I’ve got chicks in my nest, and I’m going to try my darn hardest to defend them!”
Magpie Swooping Is Easily Avoidable (In Most Cases)
Quite a lot of encounters with these birds, result due to human ignorance. An example of this, is when people are well aware there’s a protective magpie father in the area. The individual glances at the warning sign, they could quite easily take an alternative route, but time after time, they continue to enter anyway. They should be well aware that the odds of an encounter occurring increase each time they enter the area. “I shouldn’t have to go out of my way to avoid a bird (some people think) I’ll just pass through here anyway, ignoring all the warnings.” Then they claim ‘MAGPIE ATTACK!’ if an injury were to result.
Many of these people wouldn’t admit, they could’ve taken that alternative route. These people are the ones at fault, and they failed to listen to the warnings, but yet they so quickly and easily blame the magpie. Therefore, it’s bad reputation continues to grow, and naturally, the blame weighs on the bird.
Would you go swimming in the ocean if there were shark warning signs placed on your local beach? Not likely! So what do you do? Naturally, you stay out of the shark’s territory until the sign has disappeared, and it’s safe to go back into the water. Please try and treat magpie warning signs with as much caution and respect; they are there for a reason, to help protect us, but the signs are utterly useless if people disregard them.
Most Magpie Swooping Injuries Result Due to Accidents
The most common result from these birds swooping people causes the individual to flee and has an accident such as – tripping over, falling off a bike, etc. These are classified as indirect injuries because, with these cases, there is no physical contact from the magpie itself. The bird did not purposely scare them knowing it would intentionally cause damage. All these protective fathers intentions were, were to try and scare them away from the nest. It’s only a real physical attack when a direct injury causes beak contact to the body which results in injury.
What Message Are We Sending to Future Generations About How We Should Be Treating Magpies? … A Bloody Awful One!
I’ve noticed an alarmingly increasing trend on social media each Spring, of people snapping ‘swooping selfies.’ Deliberately seeking out the defensive Magpie, agitating him and ‘baiting’ him to behave in such a way, so they will swoop them, all for the individual’s entertainment. These birds won’t forget such torment, and thanks to these people, they’re only reinforcing the magpie’s behaviour, making it more aggressive towards humans in the future. If an injury were to occur from this scenario, I believe the blame should weigh on the person, not the bird.
Last year I saw a post on social media, of a father filming his son (about five years old this child was). He was riding along on his bike, while the father was 100% aware there was a magpie in the area who was going to come down and swoop his son. The father was in fact, laughing and egging his child on to ride towards the magpie. Now I don’t think he would be laughing so much if the bird pecked his child on the face… The sheer stupidity of some people is beyond belief; this is a form of bullying, teasing the magpie for their own amusement, showing no respect as to how the bird is feeling. Now, what message is that to be sending to our future generations of how we should be treating our wildlife?
Avoiding Magpie Swooping
It’s quite obvious the only sure fire way to avoid a close encounter with a protective father, is to bypass through his area in the first place. But, if it’s impossible to find another route, listed below are some methods you could try. If you experience an encounter with a swooping bird and there isn’t a sign nearby, please contact your local council immediately and suggest they erect a sign in the area.
- If you’re riding a bike, skateboard or scooter, dismount and walk until you’ve passed its territory. Magpies are less likely to pursue you if you’re on foot.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
- Face the magpie and stare at him. They are less likely to swoop if you’re looking at them.
- Carry an open umbrella to shield your head.
- Fold your arms above your head.
- If you’re walking in a large group, magpies are less likely to pursue you.
- Offer the bird a small suitable treat to eat as you ‘re passing by, and make sure he sees you offering this food to him. After several times doing this, they should come to see you as a food source and no longer as a threat. In the future food bribes may no longer be necessary for a safe passage through, but, it wouldn’t hurt to keep a treat handy, just in case!
- Don’t throw things at them; this will only provoke him and make it more defensive next time.
- Don’t panic and run away, try and remain calm and walk away instead.
- Don’t approach a baby magpie that is on the ground. It is likely just learning to fly, and its parents will be close by keeping an eye on it. The parents are likely to swoop you if you get too close. If you’re concerned, it’s best to leave the baby where it is (if of course there is no immediate threat to it) keep an eye on it and call your local wildlife rescue for advice.
Spread the love, not the hate, encourage life, not death, hands are for helping, not killing.
In Australia, Magpies are a protected native species. It is against the law to kill these birds, relocate them, destroy their nests, collect their eggs, or harm their young. If you witness any suspicious activity, please call the RSPCA on 02 6282 8300 or call the police immediately. Snap a photo of them for evidence and their number plate if possible.
All images © The Magpie Whisperer
Further reading –
Magpie Alert – Learning to Deal with a Wild Neighbour by Darryl Jones
Australian Magpie – Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird by Gisela Kaplan
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