Why do magpies harass cats and do they retaliate?

Why do magpies harass cats? And why don’t the harassed cats retaliate by attacking the magpies (sometimes they do – see video below)? I am seeing videos of magpies, sometimes a single magpie or a couple, attacking a passive, sleepy cats in back garden and backyards. In the videos that I’ve watched the cat does nothing about it. We are told by ornithologists that domestic cats are wiping out the bird population, so what is going on?

The first point is that magpies harass, annoy and peck at cats because it’s the nesting season and they are attacking predators which may take their young. I guess it’s a sort of proactive, defensive measure against predators to tell them to bugger off. Magpies breed in early April in the UK I am told. You won’t see this form of magpie behavior at other times. Wrong? Please tell me in a comment.

Magpie harasses a ginger tabby cat to protect her offspring during nesting season
Magpie harasses a ginger tabby cat to protect her offspring during nesting season. Screenshot.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Non-retaliation by the magpie-pecked cats?

A Google search does not provide me with an answer to the question as to why the cats often don’t attack the magpies. When you watch the videos, you will notice that the magpies are very cautious about harassing the cats. They approach them sideways so they can jump away very quickly. And they dart in and out. They keep a decent distance between themselves and the cat for self-preservation. They are fully aware of the danger of what they’re doing. They are hard to catch.

RELATED: Two Little Known Facts About Cats Preying on Birds

I think the point to be made is that the cats do attack magpies sometimes but it’s difficult which puts them off trying. I’ve seen a rather poor-quality video of a magpie harassing a cat. The bird flies off, the cat leaps into the air to grab it. So, it is not one-way traffic in the magpie-to-cat harassing and attacking relationship. I have found the video (see it here also – it’s a Reddit.com posting)

My guess for the reason why cats, in general, don’t give the magpies a smack with their paws when they are harassed is because the magpies are too smart. They’ve probably learned that they are wasting their time trying to get them unless they use a lot of effort with little reward. As I said, magpies harass cats in a very smart and defensive way. The cats have learned to not bother to fight back because it’s a waste of energy.

It is probable that magpies are smarter than domestic cats. In a game of wits which is part of the process of magpie harassment, the magpie outsmarts the cat. The cat becomes passive but annoyed as a result. This must lead occasionally to a darting attack by the cat on the magpie.

P.S. I have seen exactly the same interaction between a magpie and a resting fox. Same reasons I guess too.

SOME ARTICLES ON CAT PREDATION OF BIRDS: https://pictures-of-cats.org/tag/cats-preying-on-birds


You might know that magpies are a member of the crow family of which there are 133 species including ravens, rooks and of course magpies. And, today, in The Times, we have an interesting article about “Crows are murder in road where angry birds attack”. That’s the title and it’s a reference to a story from a tree-lined street in Dulwich, south London.

In the trees the crows are nesting and Ajax Murrell was walking along the road where she lives one morning when she heard a strange rustling in the trees according to this report.

The next thing she is being attacked by a crow and she had to run away to escape it. She suffered a barrage of pecks and clawing. She was shocked and left with a bloodied scalp and deep scratches on her hands.

She isn’t the only one to have fallen prey to attacks by crows that roost in the trees. Over the past few months there have been regular attacks. The victims have included children, cyclists and young mothers.

A woman with a pushchair had to flee from a crow after it repeatedly divebombed her. Residents in the area are considering taking umbrellas when they walking down Townley Road to protect themselves.

Mark Avery, a former conservation director of the RSPB, said that it was unusual because crows are normally wary or frightened of humans. Of course, they are very intelligent and it wouldn’t be unusual for crows to be scared of humans because it’s been found in a couple of studies that wild animals generally are fearful of the human voice.

It transpired that around two months ago the crows in that road were in a state of agitation. They were screaming and circling in the sky after a member of the group had fallen from their nest onto the road and killed by a car.

It seems that the remaining crows are attacking people because they perceive them as hostile to their group members.

And it’s been found in studies that mated pairs of crows share territories with their grown children and older offspring help their parents to raise each season’s new brood of young birds. This is an extended family.

And it has been found in another study that crows remember those that are hostile to them through generations.

The study took place in Washington at the University of Washington. In the experiment, students put on masks and captured and caged crows which lived in the trees on campus. They then released them and thereafter the crows would ignore the students when they walked past without masks. But those that wore the same masks were attacked.

And importantly, long after the original group of captured birds had died, their descendants attacked the mask-wearing researchers for years into the future.

So this memory is handed down in the DNA of offspring.

13 thoughts on “Why do magpies harass cats and do they retaliate?”

  1. Thank you for writing this.
    I will share my experience and give my thoughts.

    Last year we noticed our cat was being followed by a very noisy magpie. We always knew where our cat was cause he had a constant alarm that follows him everywhere.
    I’m not sure if it has anything with nesting. Magpie followed my cat since April all the way to October. This year it appears to be happening again, and it irritates me more than the cat.

    my thought… my cat is a mouser and leaves “gifts” for me right at the door, but since he got a stalker, my cats “gifts” get gobbled up by the bird. Yay for me, nothing to pick up.

    Could the bird just be yelling at my cat saying it wants more food, hurry up and get mousing?

    • Alice, that’s a really cool and clever thought and it is distinctly possible. My article refers to the known reason why magpies do this. Where I live I know when the foxes are around even though I can’t see them because the magpies are screaming at them. Magpies are smart and they may have learned in your case that when they protect their young there is sometimes a side benefit. Thanks for commenting.

      Google Gemini says this:

      While protecting their young is the primary reason magpies harass cats, there’s a chance they might also be trying to steal prey. Here’s why:

      Distraction tactic: Magpies dive-bombing and swooping at cats create a distraction. This can confuse the cat and make it drop its prey, allowing the magpie to snatch it.

      However, it’s important to note that:

      Main focus is nest defense: Magpies are fiercely protective parents. Their aggressive behavior is primarily aimed at driving away potential threats to their chicks.
      Opportunistic feeders: Magpies are intelligent birds and will take advantage of a situation. If they see a cat with prey, they might try to steal it, especially if it’s something they can eat.

      So, it’s more likely a side benefit than the main reason for the harassment. Their main goal is to scare the cat away from the nest.

  2. love magpies as they are like all crows the most beautiful birds on the planet. i am a cat owner and also work for a cat charity and often see magpies harass cats. ive never seen a cat intentionally go after a magpie, they usually just wander a distance away until it goes quieter. as with seagulls a cat would rather not confront a magpie and i’m pretty sure most cats just want a peaceful life and a small inconvenience like being nagged by a magpie is just a minor distraction.

  3. It’s May 20th, and I’ve just had to save my cat from 5 Magpies.
    They are now sat in the trees opposite the garden watching her.

  4. I have raised a Magpie chick, he fell out of his nest when too young to stand and with seven cats he didn’t stand a chance…Feisty,his name, is now a year old. He is cautious with the cats he knows but regularly drives them off their food. He actually seems to enjoy pulling their tails and sometimes seems to be playing. He has developed firm freindships with my ponies and chats to them as he walks alongside them.He is quite protective of them and gets aggressive if I scold them. He is also very protective of his food hiding spots and swoops me if I accidently go to close. A little tricky as I don’t know where they are!

  5. I landed here for the same reason too πŸ™‚ … great post πŸ™‚

    My cat was being tortured by a Magpie couple and unfortunately we found one of their dead body inside the house, so I guess my cat is the prime suspect ..

    • Yes, magpies push their luck and eventually the cat loses his temper and bingo he attacks. Magpies are very smart. The corvid family of birds (crows and magpies etc.) are as smart as some species of monkey.

  6. It’s June now amd I’ve just taken a video of my cat appearing to have a conversation with a noisy magpie. I found this post because I was trying to figure out what thw story was.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      I came here for the same reason, we have a lot of cats in our cul-de-sac and we can’t escape the noise. We just had one out the front having a go at a cat laying blissfully on our bin, my husband told it to sod off and it immediately went to our back garden and started antagonising our cat, husband proceeded to wave it away and then it went to the neighbours garden and started having a go at their cat. Bloody nuisances they are.


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