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Magpie swooping season: what you need to know

Posted: 9am 10 Sep 2021

Male magpies are in full swoop this time of year as they protect their young from predators of all shapes and sizes.

Griffith University School of Environment and Science Professor Emeritus Darryl Jones says the breeding season can start in July and continue through to December, but peak swooping happens in September when most magpies have chicks in their nests.

“It's primarily the males continuing to do their main job of keeping threats away from the nest. Normally, that would be snakes, goannas, cats etc but just a few add people to the list,” Professor Emeritus Jones says.

He says males do more than protect the nest, they also share the baby-feeding duties equally with the females.

As soon as the young leave the nest, the swooping stops.

“Of the 10 per cent of magpies who swoop people (90 per cent never do), they almost always specialise on pedestrians, cyclists or posties and ignore the other types,” Professor Emeritus Jones says.

“This isn't the case where there are just too many people to keep track of, and these are the ones we mostly hear about, belting all the people in a park for example.”

What’s happening this year?

“It’s just the same as every year, although there is the suggestion that masks may be making it worse because the magpies can’t distinguish between the individuals they might usually swoop,” he says.

“All magpies can recognise the 20-30 people who live in their territory but that breaks down in really busy places like schools or shopping centres.”

What can we do to avoid being swooped?

“Because a swoop is a message to keep away from a nest with chicks, if we all avoided anywhere we knew swooping was happening, that would be a start,” Professor Emeritus Jones says.

“It only occurs close to the nest tree. Otherwise, carry an umbrella or stick.

“Just remember most magpies never attack but the ones that do can be dangerous.”

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