Why Birds Swoop and How to Stay Safe

Monday, September 30, 2019

For a few weeks during the breeding season each year, birds such as Magpies, Masked Lapwings and Butcherbirds can act aggressively to deter other birds, animals, domestic pets and people, all of which they perceive as threats, from getting near and potentially hurting, their nests and chicks. 

With increased urbanisation there appears to be more interactions between humans and territorial birds. Although swooping birds can be intimidating, swooping behaviour is seasonal and only occurs for a very short period. Most birds swoop and call loudly with few coming into contact with people. Following the steps outlined below will keep you to stya safe whilst protecting the birds and their young:

  • Avoid the area if possible and ideally put up signs to keep others away temporarily as well. If the nest site is in a vulnerable position, a protective fence, table or chairs can be placed around the nest site so that the birds can come and go safely until the chicks are hatched.
  • If you cannot avoid the area, try not to walk directly towards the birds or make eye contact with them, give them as much space as possible.
  • Wearing sunglasses, a large hat or bike helmet can help, one of the best options is carrying an open umbrella. 
  • Where possible travel in a group as most birds only swoop individuals.
  • Walk quickly out of the area. Do not panic or run as that may cause the birds to swoop more.
  • Cyclists should dismount and walk through the swoop-zone.

Do not interfere with or let others interfere with the birds, harass them or throw objects at them, as this only reinforces their perceptions of humans as threats, leading to more defensive behaviour.    

Native bird species are protected and removing eggs, destroying nests or harming adult birds is prohibited. Removal of nests and eggs can also lead to re-nesting by the breeding pair and an increase in aggressive behaviour including a longer period of swooping, in response to the proven threat. Relocation of adults birds is also not recommended as other adults will take their place and the relocated bird(s) may be persistently attacked by the adults already in that location causing unnecessary stress and suffering.

Remember the swooping behaviour will only last for a few weeks, normally stopping soon after the chicks leave the nest. For more details read our information pages on magpiesplovers and how best to help chicks.

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