Australia, blogging

Magpies – Fact or Fiction?

People also ask if magpies recognize humans?

A key reason why friendships with magpies are possible is that we now know that magpies are able to recognize and remember individual human faces for many years. They can learn which nearby humans do not constitute a risk. They will remember someone who was good to them; equally, they remember negative encounters.

Sometimes Australian Magpies will swoop on someone as in this video clip and tragically can cause injuries:

Why Do Magpies Swoop?

Only 12% of male magpies are aggressive. During nesting season, the male magpie is simply doing his job defending its eggs and chicks, which are in the nest for about six to eight weeks between July and November in Australia.

Female magpies don’t swoop at all. Magpies swooping usually stops once the young birds have fledged and left the nest.

Having said that, if you get to know your local magpies, they probably won’t swoop you at all, as they recognize that you aren’t a threat to their nest.

Since moving to the Home by the Sea, I have had a Magpie family who nests near our house. Our street is their territory.

They frequently pop in with their young ones to check to see if I have some titbits for them. One of the elder birds often swoops in to reprimand the young ones for socialising with me. His actions are most likely altruistic. He prefers the kids to be independent and find worms for themselves rather than become dependent on human handouts. Who can blame him? Such a sensible chap!

Should I be feeding them at all? If so what?

Might it encourage them to swoop in nesting season?

I decided to find out.

australian magpie close up

The website- Magpie Alert – comes complete with an interactive map for cyclists to beware of popular swooping sites.

Cyclists seem particularly vulnerable to swooping attacks.

How do you get a magpie to trust you?

Taking a small morsel of meat or keeping your distance from a magpie nest may convey the message to a nervous magpie that you pose no threat. They may even become a ‘friend,’ as one young magpie did, inviting himself right into my kitchen!

Unfortunately, that was stretching the friendship a tad too far even for a bird-lover like me, so I had to ghost him/her for a while. We became friends again, but the addition of a lively puppy to the house meant this clever magpie now has a hunting dog to contend with and wisely he and his family now only greet me in the front yard – somewhere the Schnauzer has no access to.

What Can You Feed Magpies? recommends feeding Magpies natural alternatives if you want to make friends with your local Magpies. This is much better for their tummies than chunks of bread or processed meat.

Rummage around in your garden; dig up some worms, turn over rocks, bricks, firewood logs, strip bark from trees, and you most likely will find some tasty tucker for the magpies.

The Magpieaholic warns us not to feed Magpies raw meat, cheese and bread and exotic animal vet, Deborah Monks said raw meat and mince, although popular, did the most damage to magpie health.

What does it mean when a Magpie visits you?

Magpies are highly intelligent and can make interesting pets.

Animal Expert Dr Kaplan claims that once a magpie gets to know you and judges you to be a nice person, you will have earned a friend for life. “They will form very long friendships, like dogs,” she said. “They will introduce their young, [to you] and they will be the most charming birds. My Magpie Mate certainly confirmed this theory. She returns with his young introducing me to them every year.

Magpies have excellent memories. They can remember a face for up to five years.

Deterring Magpies. How to Scare Magpies?

I’d rather make friends with them but if you have a rogue, aggressive Magpie that terrorises you, it is possible to use something shiny or metallic to scare them away.

Hang CDs, metallic balloons, aluminium pie pans, and/or half-full plastic bottles 3 feet above the grass near any plants that the magpies are disturbing.

How do Magpies Communicate?

Magpies sing to reinforce their claim on their territory, mostly at dawn and dusk. But while we are all familiar with the magpie’s melodious carolling, we are perhaps less familiar with their other calls. Magpies use many different calls, including grunting noises, to communicate.

Above all, they are considered a positive omen of good luck and are known as “birds of joy.”

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60 thoughts on “Magpies – Fact or Fiction?”

    1. The Kookaburras have a huge beak that I find a little intimidating but they are beautiful birds. Up at Maleny, there is an eco-resort where I have stayed – in the midst of the rainforest away from the roads and traffic and I had four kookaburras sitting on the verandah railing each morning! Magic


  1. I haven’t been swooped in years because all the magpies where I walk with the dog know me. I reckon magpies swoop cyclist because it works—the cyclists go away. I heard a cyclist on the radio say it helped to stop and take off his helmet and introduce himself.


    1. Yes, Peggy, I have heard that the cyclist’s helmets are really disliked by the Magpies and perhaps it is precisely that reason that they swoop on the riders with helmets. They can’t see their head or facial features in order to get to know them?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Magpies are generally not that aggressive as to cause severe injury, however there have been some instances with catastrophic consequences. Thankfully my experience with Magpies is anything but.


  2. That was really an interesting post. Magpies drawn to shiny things is something I’ve read a great deal but this is first about their formidable memory. Really enjoyed reading this.


    1. Thank you for your kind comment. Birds are very visual and at one time, it was thought they had fine-tuned their brain DNA to remove anything that was unnecessary. In this way, they could concentrate on the visual and also a reason why they could become accustomed, in some measure, to life in a cage. I imagine wildlife biology has moved on from this but the fact remains avian memories are at times longer than ours, despite a much much smaller sized brain. It makes for an interesting comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Swooping behaviour is pretty common in a variety of birds. It’s indicative of nesting territory and we should teach kids to recognize this behaviour for what it is and to show respect for the natural world by altering our behaviour to adapt.

    But there is a significant and growing problem when people try to befriend birds with food, as in trying to get an association in the bird’s POV of having a human ‘friend’. I have a bunch of neighbours, for example, who presume the intentional feeding of birds (and other critters) by hand is benevolent (I’m not talking about seasonally appropriate feeders or baths). I’m sure many people must feel like Dr Doolittle when they emerge from their houses and are greeted by their ‘friends’ looking for and reasonably expecting a literal handout. I suspect from the bird’s POV you’re not a friend: you are a food supplier. I also know the eagles, hawks, and merlins who have been attracted by these gatherings have feasted on theses feathered ‘friends’. The bird carcases and feathers beneath our larger trees exhibit the smorgasbord such reliable human friends have provided for them – unwittingly, perhaps – not to mention the assortment of skeletal remains from human-fed ground critters also attracted to a regular food supply…. which then attracts carrion feeders and vermin. (Oh, but the good intention… but are they really aimed to help the birds or help the human trying to bribe them?)


    1. Your point about being a friend versus a supplier of food is well taken and I am extremely conscious of that.
      I certainly don’t want the birds to become dependent on me as a primary or even a minor food source, preferencing handouts over natural food sources. I suppose if I was to analyse my behaviour it might be an altruistic desire to help the birds supplement their diet in an impoverished natural urban environment that they find themselves in and to support them in leaner times of drought, and, also so that they won’t swoop on me when I go walking.


      1. We provide birds with natural habitat including cover, several locations for fresh water and baths, and gardens/flowering plants that have loads of insects. Lots of birds nest here and we try to give them space and respect. Never been swooped yet.

        For anyone interested (I’m not any kind of serious birder), we use a free app for android called Merlin to identify various calls we hear (in spite of other urban noises) and birds we see so we know who is hanging about and what they’re up to with all the different kind of calls each makes. We don’t use any poisonous or harmful products on our flora but have created a suitable woodland environment. We’ve had generations of birds live here in our urban space as a result without having any direct contact with us and we know we’ve done our small part to provide a biosphere attractive to all kinds of birds as a result. The benefit is that we get to live in proximity and enjoy their company without interfering with their natural cycles.


          1. No. Canada. But I lived in Sydney and attended Grade 3 where I learned to play what we call soccer on tarmac and had milk provided in glass bottles at recess. And absolutely everyone but me had an accent. Funny, that. Struth.


            1. Ah you must have been here in the sixties as milk in glass bottles at recess went out in the early seventies at least in my state. Did you develop an Aussie twang to your Canadian strine?


            2. Right time (67-68), then on to apartheid South Africa, up to a war in Israel, on to Europe and the Soviet Union, and was in Prague when the tanks rolled in, held in Poland (after visiting Auschwitz) for overstaying our visa, then finally released into East Germany and across Checkpoint Charlie. I’ve been a rather big fan of liberal democracies and human rights ever since. As for my language skills, I can’t copy Australian but at least I can hear the difference between NZ, Aus, and SA. Again, everyone but me has an accent!


            3. Your accent must be totally neutral of course. 😉 It sounds like you saw much of the world at a tumultuous time! I have been to a few of the places you mentioned but at a time when they were quiet. Auschwitz was a sobering experience indeed and it bothered me that some kids – possibly tourist’s kids were kicking a ball around there. It shouldn’t have but it did.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. Magpies is said to be the one of the most intelligent birds if not the most, and it is believed to be one of the most intelligent of all non-human animals – have an old friend from the time we started at school – he is a serious “birder” (ornithologist) he says with a huge smile that they are also smarter than many people he knows (he has never mentioned if I am among those) 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi N. Nice to hear fron you! I am sure your friend includes you in his selected circle.
      Magpies certainly have adapted to life with humans and found a way to survive in a sometimes hostile urban environment and they still thrive. This is to be commended. Their intelligence and ability to learn is admirable. Their song is amazing!
      My Magpies look me directly in the eye for some time.
      There is a fellow in New Zealand on Instagram I follow, who rehabilitated and raises orphan Maggie’s… called SwoopandMowgli. Fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I assumed there was some regional differences but when I too looked up the Eurasian Magpie – they were vastly different, Dorothy. Apparently, the Australian Magpie has its own separate genus and thus not related to those in any other countries, other than New Zealand where they were introduced from Australia.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the sound of magpies! It’s the soundtrack of Australia to me. We encountered the aggressive males during our year there. I inadvertently walked beside what I thought was a dead chick in our yard, narrowly escaping a swoop. From then on, it didn’t matter if I wore my husband’s hat, wore a bicycle helmet or just stuck my arm out the door to offer food – I was going to get swooped.

    We returned for a visit after 7 years. I was hoping that magpie had forgotten about me by then.


    1. The Magpies near you had clearly identified your face, as a threat and didn’t forget. Bike helmet or no bike helmet.
      Did they see you on your return visit, Catherine? Or did you see them?


  6. That was fascinating… husband had a ‘tame’ jay when living in London – it would come visiting when he was out in the garden in the evenings and its favourite treat was an almond. After a couple of years it no longer came, and he supposed that something hd happened to it until one afternoon he heard a bird screaming, and looked up to see a jay circling overhead followed by three young ones, while another – the partner? – screamed with alarm. She, for so it was, landed, looked at him, and then took off and the family flew off.


    1. An almond sounds like a good treat. I gave a pistachio to the “Maggies,” the other day as that was the only type of nut I had available. I had read that nuts are preferable to raw meat, for feeding Magpies a small treat. I can hear a Magpie outside singing, as I write this comment!

      Your story about the Jaybird seemed to indicate a level of recognition. Like some animals and birds, they appear to remember people they have met or become friends with, as an adult, but choose to keep their distance more when they have a family. Still, it was lovely the Jay remembered your partner and popped down to acknowledge his old acquaintance! ( I am not familiar with that species – I don’t think we have them here, so look them up. I love the bright blue on their wing . They appear to be quite small?


      1. They are. They are also mimics…my husband’s jay could imitate the piece from Carmen that he used to whistle when in the garden and there was one in France that would imitate the tone of the telephone…how many times that had me running for the house….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That is hilarious! Many small and large parrots in Australia have mimicking abilities. I believe the African Grey Parrot is perhaps the master of human language in the bird world. I have heard of Cockatoos having to be taught how NOT to swear after living in the bush with some outback lads…..

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t say I’ve ever met a magpie. I do see a lot of crows & ravens here in BC, which are from the same family. Apparently, they’re quite a bit bigger than magpies. They’re very ilelligent birds, so I’m not surprised that they accept or take food from you.

    Out here, they don’t encourage us to feed wildlife, although it’s normally the bigger creatures that we get warned about. In the city, birds don’t seem to count except where they become a nuisance. I used to have a bird feeder once but it attracted more squirrels and raccoons and was always a mess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can see that feeding animals/birds might be a problem, especially in bear territory. The Australian Ibis and sometimes the ubiquitous pigeon can become a problem here from the public throwing bread about to feed them.
      A quick Wiki search on the Aussie Magpie revealed this, Sandy:
      “the Australian magpie is placed in its own genus Gymnorhina and is most closely related to the black butcherbird (Melloria quoyi). It is not, however, closely related to the European magpie, which is a corvid.”
      Like you, I assumed it was a variant, but apparently so different as to be allocated its own genus. New Zealand has some of the same species. Apparently, 1000 were introduced years ago to N.Z. If you use insta, follow SwoopandMowgli if you are interested to see N.Z. magpie and the guy who hand raises orphan birds.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How interesting that it’s not related.
        On the topic of city-fied birds, isn’t it funny how our perception of them changes. Take for instance seagulls. I hate seeing them in the city because they’re always so aggressive in taking food from people & garbage. They’re like thugs swarming innocent bystanders. But in their element – on the ocean – they’re quite beautiful.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You are observant Sandy. The environment in which we see the birds or animals really affects our emotions at the time. My example of this is the Ibis. It is such a nuisance in the urban environment to which it has successfully adapted. Infiltrating city areas, especially those where public refuse bins are provided. It has found it can thrive on a diet of rubbish, and leftover fast food scraps that it has been dubbed, the ‘Bin chicken,’ and we constantly shoo them away when we are eating someone in public.
          However the last couple of days I have seen an Ibis doing its natural thing – foraging for larve or food sources in the shallow wetland area and it did indeed look attractive and beautiful. Its wings were clean and white, which is a contrast to those who delight in the leftover KFC in the bins.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I adore them. Their family life is exemplary. The attacks on the kid on the bike must have an origin, and that’s a fact. But then, I vastly prefer magpies to kids.


    1. It may have been the helmet, M-R – as they appear to hate the helmets. Perhaps it prevents them recognizing individual faces, or they lump all cyclists generically into one bunch, because they are all looking like they all have the some style of helmet hair ?!!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Several years ago, as I returned to my apartment from jogging, a bird ambushed me from behind. At first I thought someone had thrown a rock at me, but I didn’t see anyone near me. I then realized it was a bird. I don’t know if it was a magpie, but it dive-bombed towards me a few more times. I never had that happen to me before, so it startled me. Yes, birds can be very territorial and even possessive!


    1. Oh, Alejandro, birds can be very territorial and who can blame them for thinking they are defending their nest? Still, it is not nice to be swooped and I dislike Plovers because I have been swooped multiple times by them. Apparently Australian Magpies, like so many of our birds, are indigenous to Australia. And not even related to crows as some have suggested. Just like our little island continent. We are so far away even the birds became specialised into their own genus and species!
      Do you have Plovers or Lapwings? This is what the one that swooped me looked like

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Like many of our birds, they are indigenous to Australia. The species in this post is the Australian Magpie. Apparently it is different from the corvid species that are found in America. Wikipedia states the Australian magpie is in its own genus Gymnorhina and is most closely related to the black butcherbird (Melloria quoyi) – it’s not, however, closely related to the European magpie, which is a corvid.
      Do you have corvids in your area?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes we have crows and ravens, but to my knowledge no magpies. There used to be rooks around but I don’t hear about them anymore. Or maybe people now refer to crows and mean rooks? Birds aren’t my thing, I only know the basics.


    1. All reports say they are one of the most intelligent birds. I was just reading today how they can also engage in reciprocity- that is will help another individual bird in trouble and help others when help is given to them. Surely a sign of advanced intelligence and altruism.

      Liked by 1 person

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