What do they look like?
Magpies are easily recognised and have the following features:
- its head, belly and tail tip are all black
- there are splashes of white on its wings, its lower back and tail, and the back of its head
- its beak is blue-grey in colour
- its legs are black
- its eyes are brown.
The magpie's lack of shyness has made it popular with suburban gardeners and farmers both for its carolling song and its appetite for insect pests.
What do they eat?
Magpies feed on small insects and animals that live on, or just under, the surface of the ground. A favourite is the scarab beetle, which is a major pest of garden lawns. Magpies will also eat frogs, small lizards, meat scraps and grain.
For most of the year magpies are not aggressive, but for 4 to 6 weeks during nesting they will often defend their territory vigorously. People walking past may be seen as 'invaders' of the territory, prompting the magpies to fly low and fast over the person, clacking their bills as they pass overhead.
The experience of a magpie attack can be quite alarming, but it is usually only a warning. Only occasionally will a bird actually strike the intruder on the head with its beak or claws. If this unusual behaviour persists, there are ways of reducing the risk of physical injury to humans.
If a magpie swoops at you:
- Walk quickly and carefully away from the area, and avoid walking there when magpies are swooping.
- Make a temporary sign to warn other people.
- Try to keep an eye on the magpie while walking carefully away. Magpies are less likely to swoop if you look at them. Alternatively, you can draw or sew a pair of eyes onto the back of a hat, and wear it when walking through the area. You can also try wearing your sunglasses on the back of your head.
- Wear a bicycle or skateboard helmet. Any sort of hat, even a hat made from an ice cream container or cardboard box, will help protect you.
- Carry an open umbrella, or a stick or small branch, above your head but do not swing it at the magpie, as this will only provoke it to attack.
- If you are riding a bicycle, get off it and wheel it quickly through the area. Your bicycle helmet will protect your head, and you can attach a tall red safety flag to your bicycle or hold a stick or branch as a deterrent.
Magpies swooping brochure (PDF 36KB).
Magpies and the law
Magpies are protected throughout NSW, and it is against the law to kill the birds, collect their eggs, or harm their young. If you feel a magpie is a serious menace, it should be reported to your local council or the nearest NPWS office.
Protection of native animals
All native birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, but not including dingoes, are protected in NSW by the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.