Magpies are Actually Playful Outside of Their Month-Long Swooping Window – Hope 103.2

Magpies are Actually Playful Outside of Their Month-Long Swooping Window

Magpies are intelligent and able to remember individual facial features and will not swoop at people who enter their territory regularly. But this year, masks will make it a tougher task.

By Amy ChengThursday 2 Sep 2021LifeReading Time: 4 minutes

Flowers blooming and warmer weather marks the beginning of Spring, but this season also brings with it a looming danger from the skies.

Spring is magpie swooping season, when the normally non-aggressive birds become hyperactive to protect their young.

Why do magpies swoop?

During their nesting season, which usually takes place during August to October, magpies will often defend their territory from invaders to protect their young.

People walking past their nest can be seen as invaders, prompting the birds to act and swoop over them.

However, Gisela Kaplan, emeritus professor from the University of New England and magpie expert, said the swooping only occurs during the egg brooding stage and not the whole nesting season.

This lasts for about three-and-a-half weeks and is when the female magpie needs to stay on the nest and the male magpie is left to his own.

This lasts for about three-and-a-half weeks and is when the female magpie needs to stay on the nest and the male magpie is left to his own.

In fact, most magpie swoopings are done by male magpies, Ms Kaplan said.

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“The female’s got to stay on the nest, she can’t help him, and that’s when his testosterone levels are very high,” she told Hope 103.2.

“He’s very anxious, actually, and anything to calm it down helps that bird too because he’s burning through his energy levels at a rapid rate.”

The swooping is usually just a warning and will often involve the magpie flying low over a person’s head, however, sometimes a magpie will strike a person on their head with its beak or claws.

Magpies do not swoop when the nestlings are alive and in the nest, Ms Kaplan said.

“The female will be able to leave the nest, so, in an emergency, the male knows he’s not alone and they can defend the territory together if there’s a presence,” she said.

Magpies are playful birds and can form friendships with people that last a lifetime.

How to avoid being swooped

The best way to avoid being swooped is to avoid areas known to be swooping areas.

These are sometimes marked with signposts, however, the Magpie Alert website allows you to search for swooping areas near you that have been spotted by others.

If you are unable to avoid going through a swooping area, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has some helpful tips:

  • If a magpie swoops at you, walk quickly and carefully away from the area and avoid walking there when magpies are swooping
  • Try to keep an eye on the magpie when walking away; they are less likely to swoop if you look at them
  • Draw or sew a pair of eyes onto the back of a hat and wear it when walking through the area, or wear your sunglasses on the back of your head
  • Wearing a hat will protect you from being swooped
  • Carry an open umbrella
  • Or carry a stick or small branch above your head – just don’t swing it at the magpie because this will only provoke it to attack
  • If riding a bicycle, get off it and wheel it quickly through the area; you will be protected by your bicycle helmet

The swooping only occurs during the egg brooding stage and not the whole nesting season.

Mask wearing could increase swoopings

Magpies are intelligent creatures who are able to remember individual facial features and will not swoop at people who enter their territory regularly.

This is only true for areas with a minimal amount of people. If there are hundreds and hundreds of people, that is beyond the capacity of magpies.

“If you get a path where people walk their dogs regularly and some people jog around, they will probably know all of them,” Ms Kaplan said.

Mask wearing complicates things for magpies because they are unable to see those facial features.

However, mask wearing complicates things for magpies because they are unable to see those facial features.

“Spare a thought for the magpies because we’re all zombies and aliens that have descended upon this earth,” Ms Kaplan said.

“We can help them make it less stressful for them and then they’re perfectly peaceful,” – Gisela Kaplan, emeritus professor and magpie expert

Magpie appreciation

They may not be everybody’s favourite bird, but there’s much to love about these misunderstood creatures.

Magpies actually have an important role for all small songbirds.

“Any predators to the area, they try to get out of the area. So, a whole host of birds benefit from the behaviour of the magpies,” Ms Kaplan said.

Magpies are also playful birds and can form friendships with people that last a lifetime, she said.

“In fact, they’re very much, in many ways, like dogs, they also show extensive play behaviour.”

They are one of the top songbirds in the world, according to Ms Kaplan, and can mimic human speech “extremely well”.

“I’ve had a speaking magpie that said all sorts of things and knew his name and said anything from ‘hello’ to ‘I have dinner for you’,”, Ms Kaplan said.

“And I’ve played back sound at the end of international talks on authority meetings and it said in a broad Australian accent “Go away, go away”.”

Ms Kaplan is trying to get some “national pride” for magpies.

“Our behaviour can change the bird behaviour. And, in fact, we can help them make it less stressful for them and then they’re perfectly peaceful,” she said.