Magpie nesting season is the time of year when the male magpie protects his young by swooping at actual and perceived threats.The magpie does not understand that a person walking nearby is not a threat and that is why they will sometimes “swoop” at you. It can be a frightening experience when it happens, so the following information may help you to avoid this protective behaviour.
Magpies are not actually out to get us at this time of year. They are just using their body language – beak clapping, whooshing above your head and screeching – to warn others to keep away from their eggs or newly-hatched chicks.
Magpies usually breed between August and October every year, and it’s during this time that their protective swooping behaviour is at its peak.
The good news is that a single magpie will swoop for only about six weeks until their chicks are fledged and leave the nest. Magpie breeding season is usually all over by November.
It’s the males that defend the nest from the time the eggs are laid until the young birds are fledged and they will attack anything they consider to be a threat. He does not discriminate and will go after anything from a raven to a dog to a human.
What you can do to reduce the risk of getting swooped.
The best way to avoid being swooped is to change your route. Magpies only swoop within 50 metres of their nests so stay away from known magpie nesting areas.
It is important to know that magpies usually go back to the same spot every year. If you got swooped at a particular location last year then there is every chance the same Magpie will chase you again at that same location this year.
If there is no alternate route available then here’s some tricks that may help you avoid being swooped:
- Travel in groups as swooping birds usually only target individuals.
- Carry an open umbrella above your head.
- Wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
- If you ride a bike, walk your bike through magpie territory or have a flag on the back of the bike that is higher than your head.
- Do not act aggressively. If you wave your arms about or shout, the magpies will see you as a threat to the nest. Magpies have great memories too so will remember you and your reaction for up to five years to come.
- Walk, don’t run.
- Avoid making eye contact with the birds.
- Adopt a confident stance as this can help to deter the magpie.
- If you know of an area that has swooping magpies, contact the Town of Cambridge so we can arrange for a sign to be installed to warn others.
What to do if you found a young magpie on the ground.
Magpies are ground feeders and so it is quite natural for young magpies to be down there feeding. It is not uncommon for people see a young magpie on the ground and assume that the bird has fallen out of its nest or has been abandoned. This is not usually the case and the parents can usually found hunting for food themselves and have simply left the young bird to learn to feed itself.
They will return frequently to feed and defend it if it is in danger.
The Best Response
If you see a young magpie on the ground the best thing to do is just observe. If it doesn’t look injured and there are no obvious signs of danger then it is best to leave it where it is, especially if the parents are around. If you don’t see the parents there is still no need to be concerned, just check on the bird a bit later in the day.
If you think the young bird is in danger, move it to a safe place nearby, on a branch or off the ground in the shade. Make sure the parents can still find it so they can continue to care for it.
Young magpies that are reared by their parents have a better chance of surviving and establishing their own territories than those which are “rescued” and then have to be raised by a wildlife carer.
If you find a sick or injured magpie contact the Wildcare Helpline on (08) 9474 9055 for information on registered wildlife rehabilitators and centres who can assist you with your enquiry.
If you know of an area that has swooping magpies that can’t be avoided, contact the Town of Cambridge so we can arrange for a sign to be installed to warn others. Report It here
Download Magpies Swooping and Safety Issues flyer