July to December is nesting season for many of our birds. During this time, some bird parents can become overprotective of their young and residents may be swooped by these birds who are simply trying to defend their nest. Magpies, butcher birds and plovers are the ones that tend to become overzealous in their behaviour, a bit like human helicopter parents.
Please remember they only swoop to protect their young and retaliating by waving or throwing objects at them only increases their aggression as their perception of threat is heightened. Below are some useful tips to use during swooping season.
What you should know
- They only swoop to protect their young and this swooping behaviour only lasts while there are young in the nest, which is usually only for 6 weeks.
- Male magpies, noisy miners and butcher birds take on defensive behavior and only a small proportion of birds will actively swoop people.
- Plovers lay their eggs on the ground, which puts them under constant threat. As a result they are very protective of their eggs and young and will swoop as a warning, if people get too close. However, plovers rarely cause harm by actual contact, unless you ignore their warning. Keep safe by simply respecting their personal space.
- Some birds will be specific in what they see as a threat (e.g. children, bike riders, post man, people with umbrellas) and some birds will target anyone who comes near their young.
- Retaliating by waving or throwing objects at them only increases their aggression as their perception of threat is heightened.
- Magpies will only swoop within a 100m radius from the nest. This is called the defence zone and is a bit wider for cyclists eg 150m.
- Magpies show facial recognition and can distinguish between different people.
- There is only a very small percentage that swoop everyone.
- Magpies will occupy the same territory for their lifespan. They have been known to stay in the same area for up to 20 years,
How to avoid being swooped
It is important to respect birds' warnings and avoid the area if possible, using an alternate route or staying at least 150m clear from a nest area.
Here are some other helpful tips:
- Wear a hat and sunglasses or hold a bag or umbrella over your head
- Get off and walk your bicycle around nest areas.
- If you are riding a bicycle, put spike or flag decorations on your helmet.
- Never approach or try to pick up a young magpie.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses, or carry a bag/open umbrella over your head.
- Walk quickly through the area, but don’t run.
- Walk in a group.
What can I do if a magpie is swooping in my backyard?
- Magpie researchers have identified that if you are being swooped by a magpie in your yard, you can change its behaviour by feeding it and becoming a “friend”
- Do not undertake any behavior that may be seen as aggressive to the magpie e.g. chasing or throwing and waving things at it.
- Never approach or pick up a young bird. Many people see a young bird on the ground and mistakenly think that it is lost, injured or fallen from its nest. This is not the case. Birds such as magpies are ground feeders and when they are young, will spend more time on the ground learning to feed or waiting for their parents to feed them. If you do see an injured chick in your yard, wait until dark to rescue it as the parents will think you are ‘kidnapping’ it, giving them cause to become defensive and protective when they nest again.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses, or simply carry an open umbrella over your head if you need to venture out where it is swooping.
Masked lapwing (plover) swooping
Bush stone-curlew defence behaviour
Curlews also nest on the ground, usually near vegetation or in the shelter of a fallen log. Like Plovers, their eggs hatch in approximately 28 days and their chicks are precocial.
When defending their nest, curlews spread their wings and hiss, walking toward the threat to try to drive it away.
It is illegal to remove or destroy curlew or plover eggs and will not stop the birds from returning to the same area to try to nest again. If the eggs are in an area where they are in danger and cannot be protected, they can only be removed by a person with a Damage Mitigation Permit from the Department of Environment and Science. If a licensed service provider is engaged to remove the eggs, you can put out some pot plants or garden furniture at the nest site to deter the birds from laying in the same area.
- Staying safe from swooping magpies (Queensland Government website)
- Relocating magpies guideline (Queensland Government website)
- Report sick and injured birds to Redlands Wildlife Rescue