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Eyes on Nature

Swooping Magpies

06 Oct 2021

It’s that time of year again: time to find a territory, build a nest and raise a family. Birds all over Sydney Olympic Park are doing this but a few are more anxious about it than others. These are the birds that may swoop.

Birds that swoop are not common and this behavior usually only occurs in spring, when birds are nesting or have newly-hatched chicks to protect. Many species swoop, including Noisy Miners, Masked Lapwings and Butcherbirds for example, but the most notorious species is the Australian Magpie.

What is Swooping?

Birds swoop to protect their territory or nests from a perceived threat. Pedestrians and cyclists can be seen as a threatening as they cross into the bird’s territory which can be as much as 100 metres from the nest. Birds will fly from behind and clack their beak close to your head in an attempt to frighten you away.

Why do Magpies Swoop?

Australian Magpies breed in spring and all swoops on people are carried out by male magpies defending their eggs and chicks. If an intruder doesn’t retreat after a warning call is given, magpies may swoop even closer and may make contact if they feel the nest is under immediate threat. This behaviour is short term and only lasts for a few weeks until the chicks grow feathers.

How to Avoid Getting Swooped

Most injuries are caused by falling off bikes and paths trying to avoid swooping birds. Attacking a Magpie in retaliation will only make it more frightened and protective. Removing a problem bird is also not an option as this will result in the death of the chicks. The safest option is to choose a different route for the few weeks it takes the Magpie chicks to leave the nest.

If changing your route is not possible, these tips may help:

  • Walk in groups; swooping birds usually target individuals;
  • If you are swooped, leave the area as quickly as possible but do not run. Watch the bird while walking away quickly - it is less likely to swoop if it knows you're watching;
  • Wear a hat or carry an umbrella;
  • Wear glasses to protect your eyes;
  • Do not interfere with the birds or their nest as this may increase swooping behaviour;
  • Do not touch a young bird;
  • If you are riding your bike you can dismount and walk (it is believed the birds respond mainly to movement). 

Be Magpie-friendly by being aware that parent birds may be protective of nests during spring. Look out for warning signs from the bird and for notices posted by Sydney Olympic Park if swooping birds are known to be active in the area.

To report a swooping Magpie contact

Ecologist appreciating Wildlife Habitats
Shy Grasslands

The Australian Magpie © Andy & Toni Bachvarova

An Australian Magpie feeding its chick © Andy & Toni Bachvarova