Why magpie swooping season is starting early and what to do if attacked

Despite the magpie being voted the Australian Bird of the Year for 2017, the iconic species still manages to strike fear into thousands across the country.

And that fear of the black and white bird reaches its pinnacle during the magpie’s dreaded swooping season, which this year has arrived earlier than expected.

“There’s early swooping but there’s early everything to do with magpies breeding,” magpie expert Professor Darryl Jones told Sunrise.

The Griffith University behavioural ecologist said this year’s hotter climate was to blame leaving small areas of “suburbia” bearing the brunt of the increase.

Hot weather across Australia means an increase in swooping attacks. Source: Getty

“It’s definitely to do with the warm weather, it hasn’t been so harsh and they’ll start breeding as soon as they can after the cold weather,” he revealed.

The Australian Museum’s Melissa Murray told Yahoo7 News swooping season is now in full swing and for the following eight weeks cyclists and pedestrians should remain vigilant.

“It normally lasts from August to October. They’re very territorial and they stay in the same place,” she said.

“They’ll swoop if they’ve got eggs or babies to protect in the nest.”

Magpie expert Professor Darryl Jones reveals the remarkable traits of magpies. Source: Sunrise

While some residents may think attacks are on the rise,  Murray explains it’s simply down to magpies flying the nest.

“If the food source runs out, the mob disperses and goes to other unoccupied areas. Once they find a place, they’ll see out the rest of their lives there.”

And it’s those areas that the “intelligent” birds will become quickly accustomed to those inhabiting nearby homes.

“With regards to people in that area, there could be 20 to 40 they know and recognise,” Murray revealed.

Magpies swooping period can last up to eight weeks. Source: Sunrise

Professor Jones revealed magpies can remember faces for up to 20 years and even have the opportunity to “see the kids growing up”.

“We’ve shown very conclusively that they remember people for a long time,” he revealed.

Most targeted victims

Professor Jones labelled magpies “cyclist specialists”, revealing those on two wheels are targeted by the birds the most.

“They’re not a fan of push bikes at all. They’re making noise, they’re bigger and moving faster,” Murray told Yahoo7 News.

And it’s only downhill from your first attack according to the experts, with Professor Jones revealing 80 per cent of pedestrians attacked by magpies are repeatedly swooped upon.

Cyclists are the biggest perceived threat to magpies, experts say. Source: Sunrise

He says the magpies watch nearby residents’ every move and will attack as soon as there is an apparent threat to the nest.

Murray said if you’re attacked, you’re no more than 80 metres away from a nest with either eggs or hatchlings.

While many people’s reactions when swooped would be to scream in panic, Professor Jones and Murray revealed that will only make matters worse.

“[Screaming] isn’t going to help, the magpies will call in his friends,” Murray said.

Preventing magpie attacks

There are several tried and tested methods that can help reduce magpie attacks for those regularly targeted.

“To reduce chances, take precautions and certainly don’t provoke or harass,” Murray revealed, saying victims should walk calmly and quickly out of the area.

Wearing cable ties on top of cycling helmets is a widely known trick, while placing sunglasses on the back of your head or helmet is said to help deter the birds.

“Keep an eye on the bird. Less likely to swoop if you look at it or thinks you’re looking at it,” she said.

But Ms Murray’s best piece of foolproof advice is to simply avoid the area.

“Stay clear, it’s a bit of common sense,” she said.

Australian Museum’s Melissa Murray urged residents to put up temporary signs if they see magpies swooping. Source: Getty

And Murray called on residents to do their bit for those unaccustomed to the area.

“Neighbours should make temporary signs to warn pedestrians,” she advised.

For those who feel the relationship has become untenable, contacting your local government could lead to professionals relocating the birds as they become too much of a danger.

But Murray says that should only be a last resort, reminding Australians to empathise with the birds and to embrace the few short weeks of swooping.

“You might have got them at a bad time, you’ve possibly woken up the baby, very much like human mothers become angered,” she said.

“Humans should just enjoy the fact they’re so close up with nature. They really are a beatiful bird.”

Those wanting to avoid areas of repeat attacks or report a swooping incident can head online to Magpie Alert!