Magpie swooping season in Moreton Bay Region

Published 12:00pm 17 August 2022

Magpie swooping season in Moreton Bay Region
Words by Kylie Knight

Magpie season is in full swoop and while Brisbane City Council has made changes to the way it handles aggressive birds, there won’t be changes in the Moreton Bay Region.

Brisbane City Council law changes were brought about following the death of a five-month-old baby who died in August last year after a magpie swooped her and her mother while they were on a walk. The baby’s mother tripped and fell, leaving the child with critical head injuries.

Aggressive magpies in Brisbane will now be relocated by state-licenced experts. This will happen whenever there is a dangerous swooping incident or evidence a bird’s aggressive behaviour is escalating.

Moreton Bay Regional Council does not remove birds and will instead install signage to warn pedestrians and cyclists.

Council has signage up in three locations at present: Parkleigh St, Everton Hills; Kelliher St, Rothwell; Helen St, Caboolture. Magpiealert.com also has Eversleigh Rd, Scarborough, listed.

Mayor Peter Flannery says spring is prime time for native birds to begin swooping.

|“This is a defensive behaviour to protect their young,” he says.|

“While magpies are well-known for swooping, its estimated that only nine per cent of magpies swoop. Other swooping birds include plovers, butcherbirds, crows, noisy minors, peewees and noisy friar birds.”

Swooping is most common in spring but can start in late winter and extend into late summer. Native birds are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and it is illegal to harm them or interfere with their nests and eggs.

If you are concerned about a swooping bird on council land you can report it online or phone 3205 0555.

Magpie swooping season in Moreton Bay Region

Intelligent birds protecting their young

University of the Sunshine Coast (UniSC) Moreton Bay Campus Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology Dr Dominique Potvin has studied the birds on and off since 2009 and says they are intelligent and co-operative, working together to solve problems.

The results of a study, released earlier this year, showed magpies worked together to foil attempts to track their movements using a GPS device in a harness. They demonstrated intelligence, co-operation and problem-solving ability in working together to remove the harness - one bird stood still while the other removed it.

The birds also have an extraordinary memory of humans and faces, with an ability to recognise more than 20 people.

“They will only swoop when they see particular faces that they consider a threat – whether that person has fought back or been aggressive in the past,” Dr Potvin says.

“They also remember if you’ve been kind to them, or if you’ve given them a little something (to eat). They will get to know who you are, especially if you live in the area. They’ll learn and know you’re not a threat.”

Dr Potvin says magpies have a ‘culture’ and communicate threats to each other, for example a PHD student who caught and released birds for study was swooped by birds he had not studied when he went back to the location. The birds who remembered him had warned the others.

In some areas, magpies consider cyclists a threat while in others they will swoop runners or children or people walking dogs.

At this time of year, they are particularly vigilant and it’s in their best interests to work together.

|“They’re just really good parents, they’ve built their nests and laid their eggs and at some point between when they lay their first eggs and their young fledge (leave the nest), they’re very protective,” Dr Potvin says.|

“They’re just trying to protect their babies at all costs.”

How to protect yourself

There’s no single way to protect yourself from swooping, no single hat to wear, because the birds will swoop different people for different reasons.

“The number one way is to avoid an area where they’re swooping,” Dr Potvin says. “That’s why we put signs up.

“Another big thing is to maintain eye contact. You have to chat to them and keep an eye on them.”

Dr Potvin says swooping is most dangerous when combined with the element of surprise because humans will react defensively and could put themselves at risk.

This could result in falling over, off a bike or into the path of traffic or other people.

She says zip ties on helmets and hats do not stop swooping but prevent the bird from swooping too close to your face and head.

To relocate, or not to relocate?

“Relocating magpies is a good strategy but there has to be a lot of thought about where they’re relocated,” Dr Potvin says.

There is a risk they may take their learnt behaviours and perceived threats to a new location and communicate them with a new population of birds.

“They could tell the others to attack people with helmets,” she says.

Dr Potvin says the best option would be to move them to rural areas and away from people.

Specialists moving birds also need to be mindful of the population dynamics for example the removal of an ‘aggressive’ bird from a large population will have a less negative impact on the remaining birds than removing a single bird from a pair.

“Most agencies moving birds are aware of these things,” she says.

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