Swoop Time

It’s that time of year, the Spring Swooping Season brought to us by our Aussie magpies.  While most of us either love or hate the black and white feathery ones, they are smart and rather protective of their eggs and babies during nesting and hatching time.

Professor Gisela Kaplan is an Emeritus Professor in Animal Behaviour in UNE’s School of Science and Technology. She is the author of over 250 research articles and 22 books, and has conducted ground-breaking research into vocal learning, communication and cognition of birds and other vertebrates. Prof. Kaplan’s main research interests are in complex cognition and communication both in birds and primates.

Image source:  Creative Commons – Max Pixel

Among other things, Prof. Kaplan described the development and range of mimicry, discovered referential signalling and was the first to report pointing behaviour in any avian species. Her research has been supported by Australian Research Council (ARC) grants. Her book Bird Minds (2015) was a landmark publication linking cognition to life histories of 500 species of native Australian landbirds.

Prof. Kaplan is also the author of a book called “Australian Magpie”, now in its second edition. The magpie has impressive vocal abilities, propensity to play, excellent parenting and willingness to form enduring friendships with people.

Source: Wikimedia – Photographer: Toby Hudson

The second edition book is an updated and substantially expanded account of the behaviour of these birds from edition one. With new chapters on classification, cognition and caring for young, it reveals the extraordinary capabilities of the magpie, including its complex social behaviour. Prof. Kaplan  brings together the latest research on the magpie’s biology and behaviour, along with information on the origin of magpies, their development and health not published previously.

This fascinating book has a wide appeal to bird lovers, amateur ornithologists and naturalists, as well as those with a scientific or professional interest in avian behaviour and ecology and those interested in the importance of native birds to the environment.

We understand some people are nervous and the swooping can be relentless, especially if you’re in unfamiliar territory. Generally, the birds remember faces so often you’re totally fine at home in your own yard, but venture out into public parks and pathways, and swoosh, you might hear some beak snapping or feel a tap on your bike helmet to scare you away. We’ve included a link below to an excellent article in science.org.au about how to survive magpie swooping season. You’ll find some tips from Prof Kaplan and Professor Darryl Jones, a behavioural ecologist at Griffith University.


For some extra behavioural information about the maggies, check out this article on the ‘4 things you definitely didn’t know about Aussie magpies”.  Fascinating!!