It goes without saying that Australia has developed a reputation for being home to several dangerous animals and creepy crawlies. But while people are all bothered by snakes, spiders, and sharks, there's one little terror who slips under the radar every year: magpies.

That's right, those black and white birds may seem pretty cool but they're in actuality quite fierce and can cause injury to humans due to their tendency to swoop. So in the interests of everyone's safety, we're going to take a deep, ahem, dive into magpie swooping and what you can do to avoid getting attacked by these birds.

Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.


Okay, so what exactly is 'swooping'?

Glad you asked! In the context of magpies, swooping refers to when magpies attack humans via divebombs. While these attacks rarely make actual contact, it can lead to accidents and result in injury to yourself and others. If actual contact is made, then you can expect some pretty nasty skin and potential eye injuries.

Now this may seem like we're painting magpies as bloodthirsty creatures who have it out for humans, but the reality is that male magpies only swoop during breeding season as a deterrent to intruders or potential threats to their nest, which could house eggs or magpie chicks. Female magpies are too busy taking care of their young to partake in any swooping.

Breeding season usually takes place between July to November. Magpies generally breed between August and October, with the eggs and chicks in the nest for about six to eight weeks. As such, September is often seen as the 'height' of swooping season.

Once the magpie chicks are old enough to leave the nest, the swooping usually stops and everything goes back to normal. Having said that, magpies are very intelligent and can indeed recognise individual human faces. So if you've wronged a magpie in the past, chances are it will remember you.

Spotting a magpie family

While it may be a little difficult to tell the difference between a male and female magpie at first, there are subtle differences between them. Male magpies will have a completely white back:

Female and baby magpies will have predominantly grey backs:

How to avoid getting swooped

When you're out and about during magpie breeding season, there are several things you can to do avoid becoming a target for aggressive and protective magpies, such as:

  • Changing your route - Magpies often go back to the same spot every year, so if you know a magpie nesting area then it's avoid that place.

    • They will also only swoop within about 100 metres of their nests so take the long way around to avoid them.

  • Travel in groups - Magpies usually only target individuals.

  • Walk with an umbrella above your head.

  • Wear sunglasses and a broad-rimmed hat.

  • If riding a bike, wear a helmet and walk it through magpie territory.

    • Alternatively, have a flag on the back of the bike that's higher than your head.

  • Do not act aggressively, such as waving your arms or shouting, as this may be seen as a threat and they'll remember you for years to come.

  • Try not to run if you are swooped, just walk quickly.

  • Avoid eye contact with the magpie and keep your head down to prevent injuries.

  • Be aware of council signs for magpie swooping.

    • If you are swooped send an email or put up a sign for others in the area

  • Do not feed swooping magpies as this may encourage their behaviour.

To keep track of recent magpie attacks in Australia, and to check if your local route is littered with aggressive magpies, go to Magpie Alert here.

Related reading:


If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: ABC, Magpie Alert!, Good Living SA, and The Sydney Morning Herald

Image credit: Richard at Flickr

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

Did this answer your question?