Spring and summer are the nesting season of many birds. During that time, some species may become aggressive and swoop residents that venture too close to a bird's nesting site. The most well-known bird for displaying swooping behaviour is the Australian magpie, However, other species of native birds have also been known to swoop, including the masked lapwing (plover), butcherbird, torresian crow and noisy miner. All of these native birds are protected species under state legislation. Penalties apply for attempting to harm them.
Only a small percentage of birds (in the case of magpies, less than 10%) attack humans. These attacks usually occur within 150m of their nest. This is normal defensive behaviour as the bird is trying to protect its eggs or newly hatched young in the nest. Research suggests that most aggressive magpies have previously had a negative interaction with humans e.g. people have thrown stones or sticks at them, their chicks or nests.
Protect yourself from swooping magpies
Most swooping magpies are harmless and merely aim at driving away the intruder not to cause injury. However, some individuals do make contact and can hurt passers-by. Magpies sometimes recognise and target certain people over and over again. They also tend to be particularly incensed by cyclists.
There are a few simple ways everybody can help to avoid being attacked including:
- Avoid areas where magpies are breeding and nesting for the duration of the breeding season. Magpies swoop to scare the intruder away from the nest, not to cause injury. Leave the area as quickly as possible and the bird should stop swooping.
- Cyclists should dismount their bikes and walk away. It is believed the birds respond mainly to movement. Protect yourself with glasses, a sturdy hat or umbrella. Watch the magpie while walking away quickly. It is less likely to swoop if it knows you're watching.
- Never harass or provoke magpies as this may lead to a worse attack next time.
- Do not try to kill or cause injury to the birds, remove nests or eggs.
- Never approach or pick up a young magpie. Young magpies spend a lot of time on the ground and are usually under the watchful eye of a parent.
If you are riding your bike you can:
- Wave a stick or fit a flexible pole to your bicycle.
- Dismount and walk.
- Stick eye spots, a plastic face and/or zip ties on your helmet.
What we can do to help in magpie breeding season
During the magpie breeding season we often receive complaints about swooping magpies. We will then conduct a preliminary assessment of the location where the magpie nests and take appropriate action relevant to the risk. In most cases this means erecting warning signs so that people are aware of the risk and can adjust their behaviour or avoid the area.
Reporting a swooping magpie
If you want to report a swooping magpie please contact us and provide the detailed location and a description of the nature of the attack. We will then conduct a preliminary assessment of the location where the magpie nests and take appropriate action relevant to the risk.
More information about magpies
More information about magpies is available from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection's website by calling 13 74 68.