IT'S not an uncommon experience to be walking or cycling in the Clarence Valley, when suddenly a black-and-white shadow swoops down on you, sending you ducking for cover.

While these experiences can be scary, Backyard Buddies wants to let you know it ain't all black and white.

"It can be very scary getting swooped by a magpie, especially for children," CEO of the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife Susanna Bradshaw said.

"But there are a lot of things you can do to avoid getting swooped, by understanding why magpies behave the way they do.

"It's important to remember that not all magpies swoop. Female magpies don't swoop at all as they are busy tending to their chicks and only some males do. In fact it is estimated that only 9% of magpies swoop. The male magpies that do the swooping, believe they are protecting their offspring.

"They will only swoop for about six weeks of the year. September is usually the peak swooping month and then they will start to calm down and you can go about your business in peace again."

She said the most common targets for magpies were people riding bicycles, young children and males, although each magpie will usually have its own target.

"These birds are very intelligent and will often approach you from behind or from the direction of the sun to try and catch you unaware," Ms Bradshaw said.

"The worst thing you can do when a magpie is swooping you is to try and fight back. Throwing rocks or sticks at a magpie will only further aggravate it and encourage it to swoop more, as it shows the magpie that you really are a threat to its babies.

"Magpies are a protected native species, so harming them can lead to penalties and fines.

"Each magpie tends to have a specific person in mind to target, such as cyclists or young boys. There is method to this madness as scientists believe magpies swoop people who look like someone who bothered them in the past. All the more reason to never aggravate or attack a magpie as it will remember what you look like and attack anyone who looks similar to you!"

Backyard Buddies is a free program run by Australia's Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife. Each month, you get a Backyard Buddies email (B-mail) with tips to make your backyard inviting and safe for native animals. Magpies feature in the September B-mail. Sign up for B-mail and download a free factsheet about magpies at http://www.backyardbuddies.net.au.



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