What Is A Swooping Magpie?

What is a swooping magpie, and why do magpies swoop? How can you avoid getting swooped? Let’s answer all of this in the blog below.

If you are in Australia during the August to November season, chances are that you might find a raven-like bird charging at you from above. 

Yes, that’s the Australian magpie swooping on you, and you need to be aware of them to protect yourself.

Research has shown that during the breeding season, 9-10% of magpies are likely to swoop down on a human coming around their nests. 

Are magpies generally aggressive birds, or is there something more to their behavior? Let us find out more about these fascinating creatures.


What Is A Swooping Magpie


Why do Magpies Swoop?

Magpies attack when they perceive you as a threat during their breeding season. During nesting season, when protecting their babies becomes their priority, a small number of these birds take to swooping attacks on anything they see as a threat. 

Whether it is small animals, other birds of prey, or humans on cycles, magpies swoop at anything that looks like a threat. Their swooping radius is anywhere between 100 to 150 yards from their nest. 

When do Magpies Swoop?

Magpies breed between July to November. This is the time when most swooping incidents happen. Professor Darryl Jones of Griffith University says that otherwise harmless magpies can be very sensitive when it comes to their young ones. 

Biologists have studied swooping behavior for many years. Aggressive magpies that swoop are almost always males protecting their babies. 

Experts on animal behavior suggest swooping is an essential strategy for protection around a magpie’s nesting site. 


What Is A Swooping Magpie


Why do Magpies Swoop Cyclists?

Cyclists are one of the most common targets for swooping incidents. There is more than one reason cyclists get attacked by magpies

A magpie might perceive a fast-moving cyclist as a threat simply because of her speed. They might also get confused due to shiny objects like chains or bells. 

Until their little ones fledge, adult magpies become more and more aggressive. So the best idea for cyclists is to avoid routes that have magpie nests during nesting season. 

Here’s a video of a swooping magpie attacking a cyclist, set to the intimidating tones of “Ride of the Valkyries” (I love the smell of magpies in the morning, anyone?):

How to Avoid Getting Swooped?

Now, you might be thinking that a bird swooping down on a human would not be able to cause much harm.

In most cases, this is true. These swoops might end up with no contact at all, or in some cases, they might just snap their beaks at you. However, in extreme cases, magpies will peck at you, dive-bomb, or even put on a full-on attack. 

There are incidents where magpies have plucked at eyes and ears, which can be very dangerous. One five-month-old baby was killed by a swooping magpie.

Therefore, it is important that you should be aware of these attacks and know how to protect yourself.

Despite all the trouble, avoiding aggressive magpies and their swooping attacks is quite easy. Here is a list of things you can do to protect yourself during the swooping season. 


What Is A Swooping Magpie


Look out for nesting areas and flocks.

Around the nesting season, the best idea is to know where the birds build their nests and avoid them. Watch out for a flock of magpies flying around in a specific area. This could be a sign of them trying to locate their nests or building new ones.

Inform your local councils

Passing information about nesting sites of magpies will help your local city councils to set up safe zones. 

Putting up small flags and area markers as “Magpie Alert” zones can help other people avoid areas of probable swooping incidents. 

Councils can also set alternative routes for people to take so that the birds do not feel threatened.


What Is A Swooping Magpie


Carry a cover.

One good idea for avoiding magpie swooping is to carry a cover like an umbrella or a big hat. If you are trying to avoid the birds coming at you, carrying a cover would mean they can swoop but not harm you in the process.

Never search for nests.

The first rule of avoiding a bird attack is to stay out of their way. Do not follow a flying bird to search for their nests or find the young ones. The magpie will only attack if they feel you will harm their young ones.

Do not make any sudden movements.

If a magpie is swooping towards you from the air, try not to move or run away. This may seem like a bad idea, but if you start running, they will follow you and are likely to mark you as a future target.

Do not try to feed the birds.

During nesting season, magpies are always on the lookout for food. If you are carrying food or trying to get the birds’ attention, they will swoop down on you. Avoid carrying food in your hand in this case. 

In most cases, city councils around Australia have done a lot of good work in containing magpie-swooping incidents. They help citizens and tourists with information brochures and community events to understand the relationship with magpies. 


What Is A Swooping Magpie


Frequently Asked Questions

Can Swooping magpies hurt you?

Yes, a swooping magpie can cause both minor and major injuries to people. If the target is in motion, they will likely follow it until they chase it out of the nesting areas. 

Has anyone died magpie swooping?

Unfortunately, there was an incident of a five-month-old child killed by a swooping magpie. But such cases are rare. 
Victims of magpie attacks usually get away with minor injuries that one can take care of easily. 

What month do magpies stop swooping?

A common Australian magpie will stop their swooping behavior around November when the breeding and nesting seasons end. 

Can magpies sense fear?

Magpies are highly intelligent creatures. There is research that suggests that magpies can remember the faces of people and are less likely to attack friendly faces. 
This is why, if someone is scared of a magpie or trying to run away from them, it is possible that they will sense the fear. Being scared of the bird is more likely to make you a victim of a swooping incident. 

Wrap Up

Magpies are very intelligent creatures who have always been an important part of the ecosystem. They are protective of their young and fast as hell, so it’s best that you know when to stay away. 

Thank you for reading! Always remember, if they are attacking you, it’s likely that you are the one invading their territory. So it’s best to step away. 

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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