A native Australian Magpie lays between one to five eggs in a season. With the accelerated increase in urbanisation throughout Australia, there is a fine balance between Australian Magpies and humans coexisting harmoniously.
Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced much of Australia into varying stages of lock-down and limited domestic travel. We've embraced the great outdoors during our travels in nature. As magpie breeding season approaches, you can enact some simple ways to help magpies during their breeding season and minimise their defensive behaviour of swooping.
Australian Magpies are as majestic as they are protective
If you live in Australia, chances are you would be familiar with the early morning carolling from an Australia Magpie. Magpies are widespread throughout Australia and one of the country's most recognised native bird species. Magpies are their own species and identified by their contrasting black and white plumage. Whether perched in a tree or hopping around on the grass in your garden, you will see them with breasts puffed out and proud. Their songs can be rich and symphony-like; as many as 24 birds can be living in communities in one small area. With tidings of magpies living in close proximity to houses and backyards, you'd also be equally familiar with their tendency to 'swoop' during their breeding season. Peak breeding season occurs from August to November, when male magpies become more aggressive towards intruders or predators approaching too close to their nests. Yes, this includes humans.
Magpies can be seasonal creatures of habit
Magpies are generally tame birds that prefer to inhabit areas where there is a mix of trees and open space. It's unlikely you'll find magpies in desert areas and dense forest. Parks and sporting areas tend to attract magpies and offer the best living and breeding spots. Magpies prefer to wander the ground in search of food like insects, worms and larvae, and have even been known to accept food from humans.
Nests are built on the outer branches of trees – a little platform made from sticks that house a bowl made from grass and fibre. Males are known to help protect the nesting area while females choose nesting sites and incubate between one and five eggs over a three-week period. Once hatched, chicks stay in the nest for about four weeks. You'll be able to identify male magpies by their stark white colouring in the nape, shoulders and upper tail, while these body areas are grey in females. Because magpies form tight-knit families and communities, they have a keen survival instinct that's orchestrated by their memory.
You can help create a safe space for magpies to live and breed
Magpies will remember positive – and negative – interactions with humans. One strategy to help magpies feel safe during the breeding season is simple: be kind and consistent.
It's been reported that over 80% of successful breeding magpies live near houses. This means that friendships between magpies and humans can and will occur. If you think about it, you foster your own friendships with other humans through time and trust. If magpies are living around your house, you can develop trust and reduce predatory risk by treating magpies kindly. Some ways include regularly talking to magpies in a sweet voice while you're in your yard, helping magpies to remember your face through repetition, avoiding aggressive behaviour towards magpies, and leaving water bowls outside during warmer days of the breeding season. Magpies can then reciprocate without resorting to swooping. Ways they may do this is not fly away when you approach or allow their chicks to explore your yard.
What about when you're in public spaces?
If you're travelling through a public area you're not familiar with, or not intending to return to, you may wish to wear a hat and sunglasses at the back of your head. Magpies swoop from behind, though they won't swoop if they think you're looking at them. An open umbrella may also help to protect you, but can escalate a magpie's aggressive behaviour. If you're riding your bike, it's often advised to walk (not run) your bike to reduce the 'threat'. If you're walking through the area, change your route or cross the road at a steady pace.
While it's suggested to deter swooping by waving a branch around your head, Australian Magpies are still protected native wildlife that should not be harmed in any way. If you think someone is harming a magpie, you can report the incident to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
(DELWP) customer contact centre in Australia on 136 186 or your local council or animal rescue group.