For most of the year magpies are not aggressive, but for four to six weeks coming into spring and during nesting they will often defend their territory vigorously. People walking past may be seen as ‘invaders’ of the territory, prompting the magpies to fly low and fast over the person, clacking their beaks as they pass overhead. The experience of a magpie attack can be quite alarming, but it is usually only a warning. Only occasionally will a bird actually strike the intruder on the head with its beak or claws. If this unusual behaviour persists, there are ways of reducing the risk of physical injury to humans.
If a magpie swoops at you:
- Do not panic and run. It can encourage a swooping bird to continue its attack.
- Try to keep an eye on the magpie while walking carefully away.
- Magpies are less likely to swoop if you look at them.
- You can also try wearing your sunglasses on the back of your head at the time of an attack.
- Wear a bicycle or skateboard helmet (spike up with some cable ties if possible).
- Wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat.
- Carry an open umbrella, or a stick or small branch, above your head but do not swing it at the magpie, as this will only provoke it to attack.
- If you are riding a bicycle, get off it and wheel it through the area. Your bicycle helmet will protect your head, and you can attach a tall red safety flag to your bicycle or hold a stick or branch as a deterrent
- Do not act aggressively. If you wave your arms about or shout, the magpies will see you as a threat to the nest – and not just this year, but for up to five years to come.
- Children walking to school should hold a bag over their head if possible.
- Don’t approach a young magpie just out of the nest. The parents may think you are attempting to harm it.
Residents can track and record swooping magpies in the local area using Magpie Alert.
Magpies are protected throughout NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. This makes it against the law to kill the birds, collect their eggs, or harm their young. Hilltops Council has no powers to authorise or carry out the destruction of magpies and cannot discharge a firearm in the town limits.
If you feel a magpie is a risk to public safety that cannot be adequately mitigated by these measures, you should report the matter to the nearest National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) office
For further information on dealing with Magpies during the breeding season visit the NSW Environment and Heritage website.
- National Parks and Wildlife Service – 1300 072 757
- NSW Environment and Heritage – 1300 361 967
- Hilltops Council on 1300 445 586