Swooping Season: What Australian Tourists Need to Know
If you are traveling to Australia on vacation from late August to early to mid October, you need not worry about the kangaroos or any of the other vicious predators that seem to populate the outback. Instead, you need to worry about the magpies, birds in the middle of their breeding season that start attacking the people of Australia, residents and tourists alike, during that time. If you have never been swooped by a magpie during their breeding season, then you don’t know the terror it can bring. However, experts say that they are just protecting the babies in their nest, so what mother can blame them.
Most people worry about the huge spiders in the outback or snakes, or any other number of threats that live in the Outback, or all over the world actually. The last thing you think of having to worry about attacking you is a flock of birds when you’re on vacation unless you’re starring in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, of course. If you’ve ever seen his movie “The Birds,” then you might never set foot in Australia between August and October. Luckily, there are ways that you can protect yourself, and even prevent the magpies from swooping and attacking you if you’re in Australia during the swooping season.
In this blog, we will go into the swooping season and everything you need to know, give you some tips to protect yourself if you are attacked, talk about how to prevent the magpies from attacking you, and even dispel some of the myths associated with the magpies and swooping season as well. So, grab your hard hat, cover your eyes, and let’s delve into this blog on swooping season, everything you need to know as a tourist in Australia during this scary time of year.
A Little About the Australian Magpie
It will be easier to avoid being attacked by a magpie, defending its young, if you know a little bit about them to begin with. They are easy to recognize by looking for the following features.
- The magpies head, belly, and tip of its tail are all black
- On its wings, lower back, tail, and head, it has splashes of white that are easily spotted
- It has a blue-grey beak
- It has black legs
- It has brown eyes
These features make it easily distinguishable from other birds in the area and should help you to identify the bird and veer away from its nest. The bird is not shy and has a song that has made it popular with gardeners and farmers in Australia, as it eats pests as well.
What do Magpies Eat?
These birds feast on animals and small insects that live under or just under the ground, such as scarab beetles. They also eat frogs, meat scraps, small lizards, and grain. No, they do not eat people.
It is important to note at this point, that it is illegal to kill, harm, collect the eggs of, or harm the young of a magpie, and if you do, it could come with a huge fine or even jail time. So, remember that when you are out if one swoops down at you.
Now that you know a little bit about the bird that everyone is scared of during the swooping season, from adults to children alike, we will move onto how to protect yourself should a magpie attack you, as a tourist to the area.
Tips for Protecting Yourself When Magpies Attack
It’s important to remember as well, that the magpies are not attacking people just to be mean and because they hate humans, although it has been said that they remember faces and tend to attack those people if they see them more often. They are trying to protect their babies, just as any parent would. Below you can find some tips to get through swooping season unscathed and with both eyes intact.
Be on the Lookout for Nesting Areas
When you are out and about, keep an eye out for what looks like the nesting area of a magpie. If you see anything that resembles it along your walking or cycling route, it’s best to change your route and avoid the area altogether.
Never Harass or Taunt Magpies
The last thing you want to do is make these birds angry because they will attack you. This means refraining from throwing things at their nest, climbing their trees, and antagonizing the adult magpies is a big no-no. They will attack you if they feel that you are threatening their young, and it doesn’t take much for them to decide that you’re a threat.
Walk Away Quickly
If you run across a nest of magpies, it’s best to try to quietly turn and walk away quickly. It is important not to panic, by running, flailing your arms or yelling, as the magpie will see this as a direct threat. You need to try to teach any children that are with you not to panic as well. The magpie usually gives a warning swoop, but if it still feels threatened, it will attack viciously.
Make Eye Contact
Magpies usually attack from behind, so if you make direct eye contact, it’s less likely that they will attack you. Look over your shoulder and make eye contact as you walk away. You can walk backward, so you can keep constant eye contact, just make sure you know where you’re going so you don’t trip and injure yourself. Falling could also cause the magpie to see you as a threat and it will attack you on the ground.
Quickly get off Your Bike if You Are Swooped
If you are swooped while riding your bike, which many cyclists are, then it’s best to drop the bike and dismount quickly. Your helmet should protect you from getting attacked in the head and face so that you can quickly walk the bike away from the nest.
There are quite a few non-traditional methods of avoiding being swooped and attacked by magpies. A few of these methods are listed below as well.
- Painting eyes on the back of your helmet or a hat, so the magpie will think you are making direct eye contact
- Putting clip ties or little spikes on your helmet to deter the birds when attacking
- Waving a stick at the magpie to run it off
It still has not been proven that any of these non-traditional methods work, so it might not be a good idea to try them at all. Stick to the tips above and you will be better off.
Tips for Avoiding Being Swooped
There are quite a few tips you can use to avoid being swooped as well, besides avoiding the areas, where the magpie are nesting. Read on for a few of them below as well.
Covering up is a good way to keep from being attacked by magpies as well. This means using an umbrella to cover yourself when you are outside and in an area that has seen magpie activity. Wearing a solid hat has been known to deter magpie attacks as well.
Travel in Groups to Avoid Being a Target
You are more apt to be attacked by a magpie if you are walking alone. Walking in groups could make the magpie think twice about attacking anyone in that group.
Running During Magpie Season
If you simply can’t stop running during the magpie’s breeding season, you need to find another way to get the exercise or training you need. Below, we will go into a few things you can do to keep running during the swooping season.
Bring Out Your Treadmill
If you are afraid of the magpies, then it’s best to try and stay indoors during the eight weeks of the swooping season. If you have a treadmill, then you might consider dusting it off and using it to get your exercise and training in, instead. You can also consider going to the gym to work out and run during the swooping season as well. You still get your run in and you avoid the Magpies at the same time, making it a win-win situation.
If you just can’t help but run in the sun and fresh air of the season, you need to take extra measures to protect yourself from the swooping magpies. Some of those ways are listed below.
- Wear a full cap, instead of a visor. Make sure to pull it low, so that protects the soft part of your scalp from being harmed
- Wear sunglasses that reflective to protect your eyes from being clawed or pecked
- Use the adrenaline rush that every runner gets to get you quickly past the magpie zone when you’re running
- Carry a stick with you to swing around your head. Be careful not to hit the swooping magpie, you don’t want to hurt it, you just want to scare it away
- Carry an open umbrella with you on your run. You might look weird, but it gives you less of a chance of the magpie swooping and putting your eyes out
Bribe the Magpie with Treats
Magpies have been known to respond to bribes with treats as well. Many runners feed the magpies around the houses, so they know that they are friendly and don’t swoop them when they leave their homes. Carry some food, such as dog kibble, with you when you run and when the magpie swoops down, throw the food into the air so that the magpie will eat it and let you go on your way.
Sign Up for Magpie Alerts
Signing up for magpie alerts through the social website will let you get alerts when someone has been attacked in the area you are running in so that you can change your route. It’s also nice to help other runners by logging any attacks you have had while on your run as well, so you can help protect others, just as they are protecting you.
Sometimes Magpies Are Just Jerks
Sometimes no matter what you do, the magpie is going to attack you anyway. Just like with humans, some magpies are just jerks. If the birds in your area are jerks, choose another route until the swooping season is over with, aiming for November will be your best bet, just to be on the safe side.
Myths to Dispel
There are a few myths about magpies that need to be dispelled, so we will go into them in this next section of our blog.
- All magpies are aggressive. Not true, they are just protecting their families and it is estimated that only 10 percent of the magpie population attacks humans
- Another common myth is that magpies are aggravated by the color orange. Studies show, however, that no matter what color you’re wearing, if a magpie has a nest around, it will attack
- Contrary to popular belief, magpies have not put out the eyes of a lot of people. As a matter of fact, actual eye-pecking is extremely rare, and most injuries are caused by the person trying to get away from the magpie
- Eyes on the back of your helmet to scare off magpies is another myth that has been proven untrue. Your best bet is to find another route until magpie breeding season is over, or use one of the methods above to protect yourself instead
These are just a few of the things that you need to know about swooping season, when you are a tourist in Australia and a few of the myths that needed to be cleared up as well. If you follow the prevention and survival tips above, then you should have a fun vacation in Australia and not have to worry about being swooped by a magpie at all. Happy swooping season, everyone!
- Lifehacker: 5 Myths About Magpies You Need to Stop Believing
- The Daily Examiner: Tips to Avoid Being Swooped by Magpies
- Lifehacker: How to Survive Magpie Swooping Season