Spring hasn't officially started yet, but local community and animal protection groups are already advising residents about the advent of swooping season, with aggressive Magpies taking the intimidating step to protect their nesting territory and chicks.
A number of council parks across all of Sydney already feature the frequently-sighted signs warning patrons of the possibility of being swooped, with a dry and warmer winter being pointed to as the reason for the early onset. Some local birds have been swooping in parts of the west since the middle of June.
Though a magpie's territory typically covers a span of about 100 metres, the common habit of fleeing in a panic can result in victims being followed well out of that range. Though a Magpie's nesting and protection period typically spans 4-6 weeks, increasing population size and the continued loss of habitat to development and construction mean that more Magpie families are likely to live in similar areas and defend their young more aggressively.
What to do if you're being swooped by a Magpie:
While the natural response is to yell and flee with our arms raised, that's likely to result in a prolonged attack - as is being on a bicycle. Instead, common wisdom suggests:
- Learn the local Magpie population's territorial boundaries and plan alternate routes for the duration of the season (4-6 weeks on average, as above).
- Wear eye protection, whether it be sunglasses or safety goggles. While the birds may not be targeting your eyes specifically, continued swooping from the sides and behind, combined with a victim frantically scanning their immediate vicinity, creates a dangerous risk.
- If you're on a bike and know you're approaching a Magpie area, dismount and continue on foot, calmly and quickly, but ideally without breaking into a run.
- Strength in Numbers: Go for your walk or ride in a larger group of people. While this doesn't guarantee someone won't get swooped, it minimises the likelihood, and offers you some human shields in case of more swooping.
- Don't wave your arms or yell - or throw anything/fight back. This is likely to result in even more aggressive defence from the bird. It's also worth noting that Magpies have excellent memories, and any act of violence committed toward them is likely to be remembered, no matter what time of year you next see them.
- Don't start sprinting - in fact, you have a better chance of protecting yourself if you slow down and maintain eye contact with the bird in question.
- While some pages advise feeding the birds to help develop a familiar relationship and reduce aggression, this is a grey area that could have negative consequences. If you opt to feed a swooping Magpie and its family, ensure the food is safe for birds.
Western Sydney Magpie Hotspots:
There are already a number of spots around Sydney, and the country, that are seeing Magpie activity. Local Facebook Community pages are seeing more posts, while online service MagpieAlert is receiving more and more listings for swooping incidents since June 2023. Here are the local areas that are worth bearing in mind already. The number will only increase as the year progresses.
- Valeria Street, Toongabbie
- Hassall Street, Wetherill Park
- Old Windsor Road, Winston Hills*
- Rousell Road, Eastern Creek*
- Cedar Grove, Castle Hill
- Crestwood Reserve, Baulkham Hills*
- Myrtle Road Playing Fields, Claremont Meadows
- Angus Memorial Park, Rooty Hill
- Crudge Road, Marayong
- Queen Street, Narellan
- Spitfire Drive, Raby
- March Street, Richmond
- The Ponds Boulevarde, The Ponds
Locations marked with a * have already seen multiple reports in recent weeks. Please note that some of these locations are not exact, but rather the vicinity in which the bird attacks have been occurring.
For a more comprehensive listing, check your local Facebook groups and check MagpieAlert regularly.