Brett Wortman

Tips to avoid being swooped by magpies

AS THE weather starts to warm up, it's getting closer to every cyclist and pedestrian's favourite time of the year: magpie swooping season.

It seems that this year we could be in for a long season ahead, with a mild winter leading Griffith University behavioural ecologist Professor Darryl Jones to predict a bigger than average mating season, which could produce more chicks, and as a result more swooping.

The magpie mating season, which usually lasts from late August to late October, is when all the swooping occurs, when the male magpies go after intruders to keep them out of their territory and protect their nest.

Thankfully, studies have estimated that roughly 10% of male magpies actually consider humans a threat, but that 10% can be quite frightening.

Unfortunately, while most of the time the swooping consists of close encounters, magpies have been known to cause some injuries, so with the avian terror set to begin soon, here are some helpful hints to stay safe.

Avoid the area

Most adult magpies, once they have found a mate, tend to remain in their territory, so it's highly likely that if you've been swooped in a spot before, you're going to get swooped there again.

Magpies have incredible memories, and can actually recognise people they have swooped in the past. If a magpie has decided to pick on you, it's probably best to avoid the area for the next few weeks.

Take evasive action

If it's not possible to avoid a known swooping area, the next best thing to do is stay calm, walk quickly and try to keep eye contact with the magpie, as they're less likely to swoop if being watched.

Yelling, screaming, flailing your arms, trying to shoo the bird or throwing anything at it will most likely make the magpie angry, and increase the intensity of the swooping.

One trick to help is to be unpredictable, and don't follow a routine. If a magpie knows that you will regularly come through its territory, it will be on alert for you, so try and vary travel times up a bit if you have to go through magpie zones.

Protective equipment

Be prepared for swooping magpies with some protective equipment, such as an umbrella, broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses to try and prevent the magpie from getting too close for comfort.

Wearing sunglasses on the back of your head could fool the magpie into thinking that you're watching it, which could prevent a magpie from swooping.

Cyclists beware!

For whatever reason, magpies have deemed cyclists to be a particular threat, and have been known to target them above pedestrians on foot.

It is possible that simply getting off your bike is enough to stop a magpie from swooping. Plus, if you're on foot, there's less chance of a magpie dive-bomb distracting you enough to cause a crash.

Many cyclists have adopted a wide variety of repellent techniques, from cable tie spikes to painting eyes on the back of their helmet, though it's uncertain if any of these techniques are of any help.

What can stop a magpie swooping?: A quick demonstration of how effective some popular anti-magpie swooping devices work.
What can stop a magpie swooping?: A quick demonstration of how effective some popular anti-magpie swooping devices work.

Have you been swooped yet? Let us know where so we can try and map out the magpie hotspots.