Swooping birds

Published on 14 August 2019

Coming to a neighbourhood near you this spring.

You may have noticed while you've been out and about lately, that birds such as ravens (mostly Little Ravens around here) and magpies (Australian Magpies) have begun building new nests or renovating old ones up in the treetops over the last few weeks.  As the days get longer again after the Winter Solstice, the birds are triggered to make preparations for the approaching spring breeding season.

In the case of magpies, that might mean that it’s also not too long before some very protective parents may start a period of swooping anyone who they see as being a threat to their baby birds – not so different to being a protective human parent really, but a little less restrained!

There will also be a few plovers (a.k.a. Spur-winged Plovers, Masked Lapwings) nesting on the ground on sportsgrounds, parks, roundabouts and some building roofs, who will also swoop suspicious looking humans and dogs at some locations.

It’s important to recall that this behaviour is the birds being diligent parents protecting their babies, and that it only lasts for a few weeks.  Magpies generally only swoop within about 50m radius of their nest, and only some magpies engage in this kind of behaviour at all.  Once the baby birds are mobile enough to get out of harm’s way by themselves, the swooping stops. 

There are also things you can do to either avoid being swooped, or to be protected from harm if you can’t avoid the swooping birds:

DO:

  • Avoid swooping areas. Take a slight detour, look for warning signs or visit the Victorian Government’s swooping bird location map.
  • Be alert. If you must pass through the area – move quickly but do not run; running will draw more attention to yourself. Cyclists should dismount and walk through the area.
  • Protect your head by wearing a hat or carrying a stick or umbrella above your head.
  • Wear sunglasses or a wide brimmed hat to protect your eyes.
  • Face the magpie and stare at him. They are less likely to swoop if you’re looking straight at them.
  • Fold your arms above your head.
  • If you’re walking in a large group magpies are less likely to pursue you.

DON'T:

  • Don’t throw things at them or behave aggressively; this is provocative and confirms the magpie’s belief that you are a threat!
  • Don’t panic and run away, try and remain calm and walk away.
  • Don’t approach a baby magpie that is on the ground. It is likely just learning to fly, and its parents will be close by keeping an eye on it. The parents are likely to swoop you if you get too close. If you’re concerned, it’s best to leave the baby where it is (if of course there is no immediate threat to it)
  • If the baby bird or one of the parents is injured, you can use the Snap Send Solve app to request help for the birds by trained volunteers from Wildlife Victoria.

Key things to remember

  • Magpies are native wildlife, it is illegal to harm them.
  • They only swoop at people (and dogs) for a few weeks during the nesting season when the young birds are still in the nest or out and about with limited mobility and are being protected by their parents.