It’s magpie swooping season once again

Wednesday, 9 August 2023

  • Estimated reading time 2 minutes

It’s magpie swooping season once again

Why they do it and how to avoid it

Magpies are often at the forefront of people’s thoughts at this time of year, largely because it’s magpie breeding season, and the tell-tale sign is that some of them begin to swoop people.

Swooping is regularly recorded each spring, right across the mainland, virtually everywhere magpies occur.

The swooping season usually commences first in the northern parts of the magpies’ range, and then progressively moves southwards, with records in south-eastern Queensland and northern New South Wales usually starting in July and August. This contrasts with southern Victoria, where the main swooping season occurs in September. However, earlier reports are not unknown throughout their range.

A glaring exception to this situation occurs in Tasmania, where magpies seldom swoop people. The reason for their relaxed attitude to people is unknown.

Swooping usually occurs when the magpies have young in the nest, or just after the young have fledged, when they are at their most vulnerable to predators.

People often assume that swooping by magpies is aggressive behaviour, but experts agree that it is generally a defence strategy aimed to deter potential predators which may harm the young birds. Unfortunately, people fit into this category.

It should be emphasised that most magpies don’t swoop, even on the Australian mainland, and of those that do, only a tiny minority actually make contact with your head, with most merely making a harmless (though often terrifying) near miss, accompanied by beak clicking.

Because magpies are generally common in areas where there are people, whether it’s in the city and suburbs, regional centres or country towns, we need to coexist with them — Birds in Backyards has some great tips to avoid being a swooping victim this spring; here are some of them:

If you have to move through an area with an aggressive magpie, you can try:

  • Moving straight through the area
  • If you are on a bike you are less likely to be attacked if you hop off and walk rather than ride through quickly
  • Wearing a hat or helmet (note that a helmet will not protect your neck) and sunglasses to protect your eyes
  • Drawing a pair of eyes and wearing them at the back of your head; birds are less likely to attack if they think you’re watching them