During the Spring breeding season, a small percentage of birds such as magpies and plovers, are highly protective of their eggs, nest and young and will swoop as a warning to intruders in their territory. ‘Intruders’ can be people, animals, and even objects.
Unfortunately, swooping is normal behaviour for these birds and little can be done about it as they are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975 and must not be harmed. The best strategy is to avoid swooping hotspots completely, if possible.
If you are in an area where there is a swooping bird, and you must travel through it, try to protect your head and eyes and move quickly, but do not run.
Australian Magpies are widespread and common in Victoria, especially in suburbs and farmland. Magpies breed from August to October and will often swoop unsuspecting passers-by if they feel threatened.
Reducing the risk
Swooping birds are the responsibility of the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP). DELWP provides information and resources for people to protect themselves and minimise the risk of being swooped. DEPI’s advice includes the following tips:
- Know your local swooping hotspots
Keep informed about parks, schoolyards and bike trails in your local area by monitoring the ‘Magpie Map’ on the DELWP website.
- Avoid the area
The best way to protect yourself from swooping is to avoid venturing into a bird’s territory.
- Move quickly
If you must pass through a defended area, move as quickly as possible without running. Cyclists should dismount and walk through the area.
- Cover your head
Wear a hat or carry a stick or umbrella above your head. Cyclists should wear a helmet.
- Eyes at the back of your head
Birds are less likely to swoop if they think you are watching them. Draw or print a pair of ‘eyes’ and attach them to the back of hats and helmets.
- Do not harass wildlife
Don’t interfere with or throw stones at birds. This gives them added reason to see humans as a threat and may increase swooping behaviour.
- Do not destroy nests
This could prompt birds to rebuild their nests, prolonging the swooping behaviour.
- Don’t feed swooping birds
- Travel in a group
You can keep other community members informed of swooping hot spots by reporting the swooping location using the interactive ‘Victoria’s Magpie Map’ on the DELWP website or by tweeting the details to @DELWP_Vic and including #swoopvic in the message.
For more information about wildlife, including emergency wildlife services, visit the Wildlife Victoria or call 1300 094 535.