Great black-backed gull Larus marinus, in flight near rocky cliff, Annet, Isles of Scilly

Why do birds swoop at people?

Wild birds sometimes make apparently unprovoked swoops at people. There are two common reasons for this behaviour.

An explanation

The first is due to birds nesting nearby when they have eggs or chicks to protect. Stories of this behaviour frequently make the news, especially where the birds are large, such as birds of prey or crows.

The solution to this problem can be difficult, depending on the location of the nest and bird. The simplest solution is to avoid the area for a week or two while the young develop.

If avoiding the area is impossible, the next best thing is to ensure that you have a hat, umbrella or similar article that you can raise above your head. The bird will almost always swoop at the highest part of ‘you’ – in this case the hat or umbrella.

The other cause, particularly common in gulls, is due to birds associating people with food. This is the result of excessive hand-feeding. However, this can increase the bravado of gulls and other birds and signal that ‘people mean food’.

The only way to reduce this problem is to avoid hand-feeding gulls, especially in holiday resorts where the problem tends to be most prevalent.