How Are You Dealing With Swooping Magpies This Spring?

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How Are You Dealing With Swooping Magpies This Spring?


It’s September, spring is upon us and for anywhere in Australia with a few trees and not too many cars, that means the risk of getting swooped by a magpie. Many of us have tried ice cream cartons with eyes, bicycle helmets and roaring like banshees to no avail. What works for you?

Picture by Paddynapper

After you’ve been repeatedly swooped by a magpie, claims that they’re merely defending their turf and that they aren’t naturally aggressive don’t carry much weight. At the ABC, there’s a report arguing that the magpies which swoop are the ones which successfully defend their turf and manage to breed and that we shouldn’t provoke them with tactics like fake eyes on the back of ice-cream cartons. That’s all well and good, but I’ve never seen the logic in claims that magpies trying to defend themselves against a perceived threat is fine, but we shouldn’t try and defend ourselves in turn. If they can fight back, so can we.

When I was regularly getting swooped by magpies in Armidale (which is, ironically, where the researcher the ABC quotes is based), the only options I found that work were either carrying a tennis racquet to scare/bat them off or walking around with a dog, neither of which is practical for daily use. Suggesting “taking an alternative route” is often pointless too: I lived in a location where the only two possible approach streets from the city both had magpies on them, and they’d swoop year after year.

There were plenty of trees that weren’t in town, so people telling me that “we’ve ruined the other options for magpies so we can’t complain now” were not convincing in the slightest. While I’m in favour of shooting them on a “get away from my eyes you marauding squawker” emotional level, I’d happily settle for a tactic that keeps my head unpecked with less violence.

Magpies are less of a problem in more densely populated urban areas, but certainly not unknown; the last time I got swooped by a magpie was in downtown Canberra. So I’d love to know: what tactics do Lifehacker readers use to minimise swooping when it seems like walking past a nest is the only option? Share your strategies in the comments.

Comments

  • I don’t know why they would say fake eyes on an ice cream tub is useless, because I’ve seen plenty of kids that do it and don’t get bothered. Personally, I grab a stick if I can find one and just regularly turn my head in the general direction of the incoming missile, if they are on the way, they generally break off when they see that you are watching them, if they don’t the stick will fend them off. Seriously though I think they know if you’re scared and then it becomes a game!

  • I’ve never really seen this as an issue… carry a small branch over your shoulder, use it to wave the fly’s away every now and again and they’ll still swoop but they wont come close enough to hurt you.

  • Lots of cyclist I see have long zip ties the tail of the tie sticking up in the air in random directions, I can see that being somewhat effective however I got swooped the other day it got me in the shoulder!!!

    • I’d like to believe that, because it would also solve overheating of the skull in summer. I grew up in Europe so never had either problem. But I’ve been swooped several time sin recent weeks and was pecked on the ear this morning, I have a bloodied shirt to prove. However, I’d like to think that at least the helmet provides some protection from being pecked straight on the head, I personally feel safer wearing the helmet, just in case.

  • I don’t know. I’d sooner trust the opinion of a zoologist than that of a peckerhead IT journalist when it comes to assessing animal behaviour. If you must protect your empty skull, Angus, take an umbrella with you. They’re amazing creatures, intelligent and with one of the most amazing birdsongs in the avian world. The inconvenience of their protectiveness for 6 weeks of the year is a small price to pay for the pleasure of their company for the rest of the year.

  • since they only breed once a year and usually swoop people when they have eggs/young why not just use an umbrella if you cant go around them

    have a nest of plovers on my front lawn who have been coming back for years that no longer swoop us because don’t go near them unless we have to can even mow the lawn around the nest without getting swooped

  • My mum found me a hat when I was a kid that was covered in silver sequins – not only did I look awesome (or so thought my 8 year old self) the reflections kept away the maggies. Since then I’ve also heard stories of people gluing bits of mirror to hats/helmets and not having any troubles.

  • If my experience is anything to go by, the best thing is to ride your bike to school year after year getting swooped and regularly arriving with bloody ears or neck, then 25 years later read about potential solutions that I should have tried.

  • Make sure they are watching you on a few occasions and drop food for them then leave, they will quite quickly learn you are not a threat but a provider and will leave you alone.

  • The solution I have is that for the last 5-10 years we’ve been feeding the local magpie mating pair and their children. Have never been swooped by them where others in the street have.

    • Where I used to live, we had magpies that would come into out lounge room, because they kew they could get a feed. Where I am now, the neighbour feeds them and they are very friendly and never swoop (and the are lots of kids on bikes). Two blocks away, there is a park inhabited by VERY aggressive Magpies, that swoop everyone – because nobody lives nearby to feed them. Now feeding them might not be the most ecologically sound for the birds – but it sure befriends them and hence, makes them stop swooping

  • I find the best solution, -the very, very, very best- is for people not to be dicks.

    That’s the only thing that 100% works.
    It’s hard though, because people are naturally stupid dicks and act like morons when there are animals of any kind near them… But if they can restrain their impulses and learn to ignore the birds and let them go about their daily business then the problem clears up.

    Seriously. In my suburb swooping used to be rife… But then most of the kids grew up, the population were mostly adults. People stopped acting stupid around the birds, gave them their own space etc. So in more than 15 years I’ve only seen one swooping bird in the whole area. Even when more kids came again, that behaviour just wasn’t there anymore.

      • How am I able to walk home every day without one magpie swooping on me? I can walk past magpies, babies with parents and I have never been swooped. I went to ride to a friends house the other day and got swooped on by at least 3 different magpies. I believe this is either because I rode past a school, many children, feels like a bigger threat to the magpies, OR because I was wearing a helmet.

    • I was minding my own business and got swopped today. I was walking across an oval 50-80 metres away from any the make and it started swooping me. It didn’t actually get me (just swooped above my head). How does this fit into the category of being a Dick?

  • When living in town I made eye contact and talked to them. We got on very well. Now I’m out of town and there are no kids around the maggies never swoop. I don’t feed them either but they do like it when I dig the garden or mow the paddock.

  • Magpies are so innocent where I used to live, you could walk right up to them and hand feed them. They never swooped or anything, and they make nice noises.

    On the other hand, the crows where the “bad birds” Regularly attacking people, kicking magpies out of their home and the noises they make are annoying.

  • The best method is to tape a mini Xmas tree to your head with BRIGHT tinsel and a few noisy baubles. A few bits of foil helps as well. The birds don’t like the shiny noisy things.

  • I saw a magpie swoop a POST Australia worker on his motorbike last week. He was going 50km down a road and this magpie was just flying behind him and then pecked his white helmet! Wish I got the thing on camera it was great!

  • I can’t even leave my street without getting swooped, yesterday one scrstched across my mums face, it was so frightening for us and my 2year old son. I don’t drive and im to scared to leave the house walking, will an umbrella stop them coming close to me and my son?

  • Haven’t had it happen to me yet, which is probably because the Magpies in our street have their hands full trying to escape from gangs of pouncing Myna’s. They are equally as vicious, but at least it’s only against birds.

  • I’m quite surprised that in the past week, I’ve been swooped about 3 times by *pigeons*. I didn’t even realise pigeons swooped!

    No magpies yet. But they’ll get me. The other day I had a standoff with one on a fence. It looked like it was gonna lunge at me. Just kept eye contact, showed no fear (but no agression) and walked past.

  • Magpies are EVIL. They have it in for me. They stalk me, I am sure. Even when I am inside I can see their beady little eyes watching me through the window.

    If I must leave the house then I use an umbrella. Keeps my head pain free, provides shade and doesn’t look as silly as an ice cream container/bike helmet with eyes.

  • I’ve never been swooped, and have a family of (now) around a dozen living in our street. We’ve ravens nesting in our back yard, both types of mynah’s, and chickens.

    Using sticks or air-rifles is over the top, and cruel. You’re worried about getting scratched, so you retaliate by attempting to severly wound the animal when it is simply protecting its young?

    Every morning I wake up to a Magpie warble, and I know I am Australian, and home.

  • Really I dont think its such a big deal. Yeah it hurts if one actually makes contact (but rare). Its only for a short time each year. I actually quite like swooping season, when you know where they are swooping have lunch near by and enjoy the show of people waving their arms and ducking and running. It fun and enjoyable

  • I had a pair of butcher birds set up their nest down the side of my house low in a tree. Every time I went outside they would swoop. Apparently these birds are related to magpies.

    The only solution to lots of blood letting on my part was a golf umbrella whenever I went out the front or back doors. This worked a protective treat.

    The worst part was after the two chicks hatched, their nest fell out of the tree in a storm. Unfortunately the tree was too dense for me to use the protection of the umbrella to tie the nest back up. I tried but the tree was not dense enough to protect me from two swooping butcher birds.

    I ended up putting their nest in another less dense gum tree well down my backyard using an extension ladder, the golf umbrella along with beach towels pegged all around the edge of the umbrella. This was a very multi-coloured and bright look that would win no fashion parade.

    The two butcher birds went abjectly nuts when they saw me in this get-up!!! So they clearly didn’t like the fashion either. And you should know I was nowhere near the chicks, who were in their nest in a box at the base of this new nesting tree.

    I survived this important task, the chicks survived too and the butcher bird family eventually moved on after a few more weeks.

    From my experience I think that once the birds have a bad experience with us, they become very wary of us and our use of anything brightly coloured, sticks, helmuts, icecream containers with eyes and so on just aggravates so them more.

    I wish I’d read about feeding these birds to demonstrate I was not a threat. It might have reduced my grief and saved me a lot of my blood.

  • well.. i’ve never been swooped, and im kinda short. out the front of my house is a huge tree and there is a nest in there(i think). My neighbour ( he’s 9 and blonde ahaha) got swooped out the front and in his backyard.. I kinda think magpies like blondes…

  • Loved this article Angus. However I have been a bit miffed by the apparent animal lovers being so rude. I love Maggpies and have a tree in the back yard of the house we are building with a really aggressive one. It’s good to hear all the different ideas. Thanks again.

  • i have had trouble wth this magpie at my k ids school, since last year. it started swooping parents with pram. i started walking a different way to school but it stilll found me and kept swooping. one time it followed me down the street through the school and out the opposite side, swooping me the whole time. this year he.s back and its not spring yet. as my baby is now 2 i stopped taking the stroller and he stopped swooping until this morning. i was walking through the school and he swooped me. i am worried he’ll swoop when ive got my 2 year old in my arms but there is nothing i can do cos they are a protected species. i want something done its bullshit. last year he gave me that much stress and anxiety i nearly had a emotional breakdown

  • Anyone who says to just avoid their nests is kidding themselves.

    Anyone who says the ones ‘in their street’ don’t swoop are also kidding themselves- go for a bike ride and you’ll find out.

    The answer is war! I got off my bike and let one have twelve good sized rocks this morning- that shut him up. Yes I love the birds but at this time of year if they’re going to go swooping someone they know damn-well isn’t coming near their nest (travelling away actually) then they can feel my wrath too!!

    If I had one in a tree out the front of my house carrying on with that crap then it would get a .177 for breakfast!

  • I have several breeding magpie families in my garden and have never been swooped, neither has any one who walks past or enters my garden. I live out of town and suspect that the magpies sharing my garden have not yet learnt what terrible creatures humans can be. I lived previously in the city and regularly walked accross an oval to get home. I was never swooped but if my partner was with me he would be swooped by several birds while I walked with out any harasment. Strange, maybe they have a sence we will never understand.

  • I have been swooped twice this season and now am petrified. Hate them with a passion but get swooped every year. How do I get over my fear as any bird that comes near me I go into panic mode and scream and cry. I have changed walking long way to work but every time I c anything that flies I am a mess, any suggestions welcome I even have nightmares about magpies.

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