When my husband came to visit me the first time in the US, I drove him four hours to meet my parents. Along the way, we’d see all sorts of Utah wildlife, including little black and white birds with long tails. He didn’t believe me when I told him those were magpies. North American magpies (black-billed magpies) are very different than Australian magpies: Australian magpies look like painted crows in my opinion, whereas North American magpies are smallish green-tinted black birds with white bellies and two sets of white stripes on the wings with long tail feathers.

As far as I know, the North American magpie isn’t nearly as “swoopy”—at least I’ve never seen anyone get mauled by a North American magpie. I assume the most birds get defensive when it comes to their nests, but I’ve never seen an entire population go to such lengths to defend themselves from birds like the Australians and Australian magpies. I was baffled when I saw people with zipties in their helmets to keep the birds away. It’s actually a small percentage of the birds that swoop people as they pass by, and even a smaller percentage that actually attack, but I guess that’s enough to motivate people to stay on the safer side.

What to do if a magpie does swoop?

  • Walk away quickly, but don’t panic because flailing could appear aggressive to the bird and provoke it more.
  • Keep an eye on the magpie. They are less likely to swoop if you are watching. Some people find that fake eyes on the back of their hats/helmets, or eve sunglasses worn backwards helps deter the birds.
  • Wear a helmet to protect your head. The zipties are up to you, but they do seem to prevent full contact attacks.
  • Umbrellas open over your head or some sort of barrier can serve as protection and a deterrent for attacks.
  • Strangely enough, walking is preferable to biking through a swooping magpie’s territory. If you are biking, hop off and quickly walk your bike away.
    • If you really prefer your bike, a safety flag attached to your bike may deter a magpie attack.
  • Avoid the magpie territory if you can and warn others when possible.
    • I found a site (https://www.magpiealert.com/) where people have recorded their incidents with swooping magpies, so maybe giving it a brief look over before heading out for a walk or bike ride can help avoid the particularly aggressive individuals.

Throughout most of the country, if not all, killing a magpie or harming its nest and young is illegal. So, if you’ve got a problem bird on your hands, report it to your local council. Taking care of the bird yourself can cost you up to $10,000 per bird, but your choice I guess (I DO NOT CONDEMN BIRD KILLING).

While Australian magpies seem to be more aggressive than North American magpies, I think they’re also more social.  We have a pair that regularly lets us know when we haven’t put out the leftover cat food and they have never swooped at us or our curious cats. They are smart and brave and can be particularly friendly, so it really just depends on the birds. Still, be safe when walking or biking and take precautions during magpie season.

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment