While distinctive for their black and white plumage and melodic warbling, magpies are also well known for their habit of swooping people and pets during spring.
Magpies breed from August to October and their young are usually raised in nests made of small branches and twigs, grass and other plant material. Nests made of wire and other non-natural materials have also been found.
These birds are very protective of their young and, while they are generally great companions for most of the year, they will swoop on intruders if they feel threatened during the breeding season.
Why do magpies swoop?
Magpie families tend to build their nests and raise their young in a selected area which they consider their "territory" and will become fiercely protective of it. Swooping is generally a tactic employed by the male to scare off any potential threats to their family and will target people, cats, dogs and even other magpies if they feel threatened. Swooping usually lasts for around six weeks and can be triggered by the colour of someone's clothes, a noise or even the speed at which a person is travelling.
Are swooping magpies dangerous?
Yes they can be. Swooping usually involves beating the wings, clacking the beak and the occasional peck or scratch.
While swooping is intended to be scare tactic more than anything, accidents can occur. Being swooped can be a terrifying experience - especially for children - and the resulting panic can cause bike accidents or even cause people to run onto the road.
Remember, that magpies are simply trying to protect their territory and the chicks they are rearing. The best advice is to stay calm, protect your face and walk away quickly.
Dealing with swoopers
If you do have to cross the path of a swooping magpie here are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself:
Walk quickly through the magpie's territory, but don't run. If it's a particularly troublesome bird, try taking a different route for a few weeks.
Protect your head by wearing a hat, helmet or even an umbrella. Some people paint or stick large eyes on the back of these items to create the illusion of a larger predator looking back at them.
If you are under constant attack, you should also consider wearing clear safety glasses to protect your eyes, while flags or streamers attached to the back of a bike have been known to discourage attacks on cyclists.
Never throw items at a swooping magpie as this action will confirm the bird's suspicion that it is under attack and it will swoop even more repeatedly and vigorously.
Protect your pets . . .
Pets are often a target for swooping magpies, but you can help protect them by:
•Putting them in a safe place - in your house, garage, kennel or hutch
•Putting your dog on a lead when walking through the magpie's territory
•Not allow them to attack magpies - a threatened bird will become aggressive