Magpie swooping season has arrived: here’s how to protect yourself

An Australian magpie staring down the camera

Nicola Dowse

Posted September 14, 2022

Spring means the birds are singing… and swooping. Here’s what you need to know, and how to protect yourself this swooping season.

There are few birds that inspire such seasonal infamy as the Australian magpie. 

Every spring, the iconic black and white bird swoops in – quite literally – to shock unsuspecting pedestrians and cyclists going about their daily business.

The good news is that most magpies aren’t as aggressive as their reputation suggests, and there are plenty of ways to protect yourself from the minority of swooping birds in your neighbourhood. 

This interactive map shows the locations of magpie swoopings as reported by the public during 2021. Data source: MagpieAlert 

Why do magpies swoop?

Magpies swoop to protect their young during the breeding season, which runs from June to December each year across the nation. According to Birdlife Australia, Victoria’s swooping season kicks off in earnest from September.  

Thankfully, the number of magpies that swoop is very small, with the RSPCA estimating only around ten per cent of breeding pairs engage in the behaviour. Of this minority, it is usually the male bird that swoops, and only do so while they have chicks in the nest – a period of roughly six weeks.

Though they can be terrifying, most magpie swoops that occur do not result in injury. The community-run website MagpieAlert has been collecting data on swooping magpies since 2013 and has found that less than 15 per cent of swoops result in injury.  

The behaviour is very much defensive, which most birds deliberately opt for a near-miss to try and scare the potential threat – that is, yourself. That loud ‘clack’ you hear is made by the bird’s beak as a warning noise, not the bird making contact with you.  

Keep in mind that it’s not only magpies that are guilty of swooping. Other birds – including masked lapwings (plovers) and noisy mynas – are also known to swoop. 


A magpie swooping next to a road

While magpie swoops can be terrifying, they rarely result in injury. Photo: Getty.

Why am I being swooped? 

If you’ve ever felt like a particular magpie has a vendetta against you, and only you, then you might not be imagining it. 

Magpies swoop at perceived threats – things that for whatever reason they believe pose a risk to their chicks.  

What might be a threat to you, is the same as what magpies fear: roaming cats, foxes, dogs, and fast-moving objects. This includes people on bicycles, who are often a prime target for swooping - MagpieAlert data notes that 66.6 per cent of reported swoops happened while riding a bike. 

But magpies that swoop can also target specific, seemingly non-threatening individuals for unknown reasons.  

Unfortunately, the birds are also extremely good at remembering faces and live long lives – up to 30 years. That means if you invoke the ire of a particular bird (or you look similar to someone who did), it is likely to remember you, and swoop accordingly in the future.  


A magpie gathering bark for a nest

Magpies swoop only while they've got chicks in the nest, which lasts about six weeks each spring. Photo: Getty.

How to avoid being swooped by birds

Stay away

The simplest way to avoid being swooped is to avoid locations guarded by swooping birds. MagpieAlert publishes a map of known swoops as reported by the public, as does the Department of Land, Water and Planning.

Your local council may also keep a list of known swooping locations within the municipality. 

If you notice a bird swooping in your neighbourhood, try to take an alternate route. Remember that each bird that swoops only does so for around six weeks. 

Consider using a journey planning app such as arevo before you head out.

Walk, don’t run

It’s important to leave the area as soon as possible if a magpie is swooping you, but you shouldn’t run. Magpies tend to see fast-moving objects as more threatening so you should calmly, but quickly leave their territory if being swooped.

If being swooped whilst cycling, dismount and leave the area on foot. It may stop the bird swooping you, but more importantly it can also reduce the risk of you having an accident due to the bird distracting you.

Don’t fight back

Don’t try to scare off or confront a swooping bird... you’re not going to win. Magpies, like all native animals, are a protected species and it illegal to harm them, their nests, or their eggs. Conversely, magpies are more often a victim of human behaviour, and were one of the most common animals hit by vehicles during the 2021-2022 financial year.

Harassing them also just feeds into their belief that you are a threat, likely confirming you as a swoop target for life. 

Eyes up

Do you always seem to get swooped from behind? It’s not a coincidence – magpies are less likely to swoop you if you’re looking directly at them. If you encounter a swooping magpie, keeping your eyes on it while leaving the area can reduce the likelihood they’ll swoop again. 

The old trick of drawing or gluing googly eyes to the back of your bicycle helmet has produced mixed results – it may or may not work depending on the particular bird. 

Carry an umbrella

If you can’t avoid a known swooping area, using an umbrella can protect you while you (calmly) move through the territory. 

The brolly shouldn’t be used as a weapon. Simply open it when you enter the territory, covering your head to protect yourself should the magpie decide to swoop. 

Go to Tassie

Generally speaking, magpies in Tasmania do not swoop. Reasons for this are unclear, but if you really want to avoid swooping season then maybe spring is a good time to book a Tasmanian holiday.

Need to plan an alternate route? 
Plan your journey ahead of time with arevo→