Avoid being swooped by smart magpies: 'They know where you live'

·Environment Editor
·4-min read

It wouldn’t be spring in Australia without swooping magpies, unless of course you live in Tasmania.

That’s because except for the rare event in which humans have attacked them, magpies generally leave humans alone across the state. And nobody knows why.

Yahoo News Australia sat down with Birdlife Australia’s Dr Holly Parsons to better understand how to avoid being struck from the sky this season.

Left - a swooping magpie. Right - a crouching magpie.
Magpies generally don't want to swoop humans. Source: AAP / Getty

It’s male magpies who generally tend to swoop and this behaviour starts to occur as they protect their nests between July and October.

While most birds are “very well behaved” around 10 per cent become “a bit boisterous” because they see humans as a threat.

Understanding how magpies see us is key to avoiding their aggressive behaviour, because swooping is not territorial, but rather “them being good dads”.

“It's around the fact that they've got a nest nearby and they have eggs or chicks, and they are just making sure that you are not going to do anything to harm them,” she said.

“So they want to get you out of that space as quickly as possible.”

Swooping tip 1: Make friends with magpies

Magpies are highly intelligent birds and can recognise around 100 human faces, so they'll remember if you’re mean to them.

"They know where you live, they can sort of map out who lives where,” Dr Parsons said.

The good news is if you're nice to magpies you can lessen your chances of being swooped close to your house.

“You can absolutely make friends with your neighbourhood magpies," she said.

“Anecdotally people say that they simply talk to them throughout the year and make sure that the birds can see them and they see their face.

Swooping tip 2: Avoid busy parks

Clever as they may be, magpies become unable to distinguish between people when crowds of humans flood parks where they nest.

A magpie on a lamp post against a blue sky.
When large numbers of people enter parks, magpies can begin viewing everyone as a threat. Source: Getty

“Where we tend to see most of the sweeping behaviour is where there are lots of people passing through,” Dr Parsons said.

“So it's a park. It's somewhere where there are just basically too many people coming and going for them to remember everybody.

“So they then see a range of different people as being a threat.”

Swooping tip 3: Stay calm

Being swooped can be a really scary experience, but it’s important to stay calm to avoid both injury to yourself and future attacks.

“When you panic, that's when you're not thinking clearly and when dangerous situations can arise,” Dr Parsons said.

“You want to be aware of your surroundings all the time.

Dr Parsons added, “It's a really good idea not to run screaming for the hills. Because, of course that then is threatening, and you're just reinforcing to the magpie that they actually do have something to be worried about.”

Swooping tip 4: Wear protective clothing

Sunglasses and a hat are the two protective clothing items Dr Parsons recommends wearing during swooping season.

A woman in the background in sunglasses and a hat walking past a magpie in the park.
Wearing a hat and sunglasses can help protect you from injury. Source: Getty

“That means at least your face and your eyes are going to be protected if the worst happens,” she said.

“Magpies don't tend to want to hit us — it's pretty dangerous for them to do that, to hit a solid target.”

Swooping tip 5: Dismount from your bike

Magpies tend to feel particularly threatened by bikes, so Dr Parsons has one final tip which is specific to cyclists.

“It's counterintuitive, but actually hopping off the bike and walking can often put a stop to the attack,” she said.

“When walking they’re most threatened about 50 metres from their nest. For cyclists that extends to about 100 metres.

“So now you’ve got a bit of an idea of how far you need to go to get away.”

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