To be fair, most of the time magpies are pretty chilled. They’re also super smart and loyal to their fam, feeling grief and mourning their dead. This devotion makes magpies awesome parents… but it also makes it awkward for everyone else, especially in springtime (breeding season) when they get the most intense, paranoid some would say – swooping unsuspecting folks that cross their paths. Especially the males, who it turns out are super-overprotective dads. Don’t hold it against them, and don’t be aggressive back. There are plenty of ways to protect yourself.

Pair of magpies on tree branch

John Turbill / OEH

So how to avoid a swooping situation? Does drawing eyes on your helmet really work? Here’s some common-sense advice plus a few tried-and-tested methods.

  • Magpie breeding alert

    Getting in a magpie’s way in breeding season between August and October can be terrifying: a magpie will swoop over your head, clacking its beak to freak you out. Usually this is just a slightly over-the-top warning, so don’t panic. But if you’re one of the unlucky ones (or the bird just doesn’t like you), it might actually hit you.

  • Obnoxiousness in numbers

    Be cautious when you see them in a group. Solo magpies sing a quiet, warbling song (it can also mimic more than 35 other birds, plus dogs, horses and even humans).  But in groups magpies can rile each other up, so their call gets loud and shrill. This is when they’re known to be the most territorial, so stay away.

  • Just walk away (it’s not worth it)

    If a magpie swoops, walk quickly and carefully away. Weirdly, magpies are less likely to swoop if you look at them, so you actually have to lock eyes with them and hold the staredown until you’re out of sight. If they start acting hostile, try to stay calm. Arm-waving or other erratic behaviour will come off as an attack, and the magpie might get more aggressive.

  • Fake eyes save lives?

    The eye-contact thing is the reason we draw or sew eyes on our helmets and hats, since it might trick a magpie into thinking they’re being stared at. It works for some, not for others. Another option is wearing your sunnies on the back of your head (turns out it’s not just a look reserved for the Australian cricket team).

  • Echidnas on bikes

    If the eyes don’t work, try sticking cable ties onto your bike helmet. Will this make you look ridiculous? Well, yeah. But it is one of the most tried-and-true methods as far as cyclists are concerned. There are a bunch of variations on this trick, like one design nicknamed ‘the pre-school project’ that uses brightly coloured pipe cleaners.

  • Not all hat

    Ironically, you could try going hatless. We don’t suggest you apply this to the bike/helmet scenario – that would be breaking the law and risking your noggin – but it could work well on foot. If you’re getting attacked while cycling, try getting off your bike and walking: the magpie will probably stop. Just make sure you’re always wearing sunnies to protect your eyes. And if you’re going for the sunnies-on-head trick, you’ll be needing a second pair.

  • Desperate times

    Carry an open umbrella, a big stick or a golf club above your head. But don’t go all Shaun of the Dead, now. They’re just birds, and this isn’t the zombie apocalypse. This method is to keep them at bay, not to provoke an attack. Just remember – magpies are protected so don’t hit or hurt one!

  • Make like a magpie and protect your friends

    Once you’re safe, warn other people of the risk – maybe put up a notice, something like ‘Caution: magpie swooping area’, if you can – then avoid that area for a while.

    Did you know: Magpies are protected by law throughout NSW, so don’t ever hurt one or collect any eggs. If you feel you’re being victimised by one, report it to your local council. Or film it happening and hopefully it’ll get some hits on YouTube.