Stay safe from swooping magpies

Magpie on fencepost.
Mat and Cathy Gilfedder

A Brisbane study has shown that only nine per cent of magpies are aggressive towards people. Even though most magpies don’t attack people, many have seen or experienced a magpie attack while walking or riding through a magpie’s territory sometime between July and November.

By understanding magpies and knowing how to behave around them, you can stay safe from a swooping magpie.

If a magpie that is defending its nest becomes aggressive and a risk to human safety the magpie may, in some instances, be removed. Contact your local council to see if they have a removal program. Alternatively you can obtain the details of your nearest licensed magpie relocator from the Yellow Pages. This is a commercial service and a fee is usually charged, typically paid by the complainant or landowner.

If you would like to report a swooping magpie, please contact your local council.

Swooping magpies

Only a small proportion of magpies swoop on people and these often have a preference for a few individuals that the birds recognise or certain types of ‘targets’ like pedestrians and cyclists.

A magpie will only defend its nest within a ‘defence zone’. For pedestrians, this is usually an area within 110m and for cyclists it is 150m.

Almost all swoops on people are carried out by male magpies defending their eggs and chicks, which are in the nest for about six to eight weeks between July and November.

Magpies often become more aggressive as the chicks become older, but swooping usually stops once the young have left the nest.

A magpie’s defensive behaviour can range from a non-contact swoop with or without beak snapping, through to pecking, dive-bombing and sometimes front-on attacks from the ground.

A few attacks are more serious leading to bloodied ears and cheeks or even eye injury. The risk of eye injury means all magpie attacks need to be taken seriously.

Magpie on fencepost.
Mat and Cathy Gilfedder

Staying safe

  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses or shelter under an umbrella to protect your face from swooping magpies (painting or sticking large ‘eyes’ on the back of your hat can also deter magpies—but this won’t work for cyclists).
  • If a magpie swoops while you are cycling, it will probably stop swooping if you get off your bike and walk.
  • Avoid ‘defence zones’ by taking alternative routes during the breeding season.
  • If you must enter a ‘defence zone’, magpies will be less likely to swoop if they are watched constantly, or if people walk in a close group.
  • Use signs to warn others of the location of nests and defence zones, particularly in areas used by children and the elderly.
  • Waving sticks or umbrellas in the air or attaching a brightly coloured flag on a long pole to your bicycle can stop magpies from swooping.

Being magpie-friendly

  • Don’t fight back if a magpie swoops. Throwing sticks and stones or yelling at a magpie are likely to make it more aggressive next time anyone enters the defence zone around their nest.
  • Never approach a young magpie. Fledglings that have just left the nest or have fallen out are likely to be under the watchful eye of a parent. If you pick them up or get too close the parent bird may think you are a possible predator and become defensive in the future. If you believe they are at risk, wait until after dark before you pick them up and place them back in a tree.

Magpie resources