Living with Magpies
Magpies are protected in Australia. This means it is illegal to harm or kill them. Doing so carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment or a $5000 fine. Remember, they are protecting their eggs and chicks and these attacks are the only way they know how.
We are unable to “relocate” healthy, nesting birds.
Magpies are one of Australia’s most distinctive birds, gracing us for most of the year with their beautiful songs. However, during mating season (August to October), a very small percentage (between 3- 10%) become highly aggressive, swooping and attacking visitors to their territory.
People most commonly attacked are walkers, joggers and cyclists. Attacks can result in either distress and/or injury.
Aggressive behaviours may include:
• alarm calls and distant swoops, where the bird will fly several metres behind a passer-by and perch nearby
• close swooping, where the bird will swoop from behind or side, making an audible “snap” with their beaks
• dive-bombing and striking, where the bird dives and strikes the intruder’s head with its chest; and
• a frontal attack, in which the bird lands on the ground in front of an intruder, flying up and landing on the chest of the pedestrian
Such behaviour is not limited to magpies. Other Australian birds which may exhibit aggressive behaviours include butcherbirds, plovers and magpie-larks (more commonly known as pee-wees). Because many of these birds nest in urban areas, it may be necessary to take preventative precautions against attacks during the mating season.
Pay attention to the nesting areas of magpies. If possible, take the long route around these areas. Councils and government departments sometimes maintain ‘magpie maps,’ reporting the location of magpie attacks.
Contact your local council or NPWS office for information on or to report problem magpies. Handmade temporary signs can help others in your area. Thanks to social networks such as Facebook, it is easier than ever to share information regarding avoidable nesting areas with your community.
The worst thing to do during a magpie attack is to yell and flail. Stay calm and walk quickly away from the attacking bird – do not run.
Try to keep your eyes on the magpie – they will generally attack from behind, so knowing where the bird will be puts you at an advantage. If you are very concerned about your safety, fold your arms and place them above your head to protect your face.
If you are riding a bicycle or horse, it is best to dismount. For reasons best known to magpies, bicycles irritate magpies the most. One of the major causes of accidents following a magpie swoop is falling from a bicycle (or horse). In some cases, riders have fallen while in traffic and suffered severe injuries.
Tips to protect yourself from swooping and attacks:
Holding an umbrella or stick above your head will make you seem larger. If a magpie attacks, it will most likely go for the highest point – in this case, your umbrella or stick. Never wave the stick around or try to hit the bird – this will only make the magpie feel more threatened and exacerbate aggression.
- Eyes on the back of your head
Attach fake eyes, or an image of eyes, to the back of a hat or helmet. Magpies will mostly attack from behind, so they will be less likely to swoop or attack if they think you are watching. If you do not have a hat or helmet, try wearing your sunglasses back-to-front.
- Helmet attachments
If you are riding a bike, a helmet can be modified to distract magpies and discourage swooping. Simply attach brightly coloured cable-ties to your helmet and don’t cut the excess length off.
This may look silly, but it is one of the most effective deterrents!
- Bike attachments
Attaching a tall pole or flag to the back of your bicycle can deter swooping.