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by Marcia Mattushek

On our arrival in Australia, I noticed that there were many cyclists on the many cycle paths who seemed to snake and connect all over the city. And many of these cyclists had strange ‘antennae' sticking up off their helmets. My initial thought was that this was some Australian cycling fashion trend, but being the newby and not knowing any cyclists, I was too embarrassed to ask.

Our container arrived sometime in April, and by the time I had unpacked it and reassembled my bicycle, it was September. But with the summer looming and promised trips to the beach, it was time to do something about shedding a few kilos and toning the thighs. So the bicycle was duly dusted and oiled, the route planned, and off I went. I remember it being a beautiful day – early morning, with the heat already cranking up, and the birds all in full pitch, having been awake for some hours already. And there I was, slowly meandering along an “acreage” road, enjoying the sights and smells of spring, when from behind me there came a loud crack, followed by a whoosh and a squawk! Thank goodness there were no cars about, as I nearly pitched head first off my bicycle onto the tarmac. I had just been swooped by my first magpie!

The Australian Magpie (Cracticus Tibicen) is a medium sized black and white bird, related to the butcherbird. It ranges in size from 37 to 43 cm, has red eyes and a wedge-shaped bluish-white and black beak. They live in areas which have trees adjacent to open spaces, and so they are frequently found near parks and playing fields. Magpies are protected in Australia and it is illegal to hurt or kill them.

From late August to early October, male birds become protective of their nesting young, and will attack cyclists and pedestrians in the vicinity of their nests. Attacks range in severity from threatening calls and distant swoops to outright attacks on the offending party. Pedestrians could be attacked from 50m away from the nesting site, while cyclists are at risk from 100m away. Direct injuries include wounds to the head and eyes, which could become infected as a result of bacteria present on the beak. Indirect injuries from falling off one's bike are also common.

How to avoid a magpie attack:

  • Stay clear of known magpie nesting sites. If you're in Brisbane the Our Brisbane website publishes an interactive magpie Attack hotspot map: http://www.ourbrisbane.com/suburbs/magpie-alert#map. Check your local council or city sights to see if there is something similar in your area.
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat or umbrella when out walking.
  • Painting eyes onto the back of your hat or helmet may deter magpies. I wear a specially painted hat when I'm out running, and have had the pleasure of watching my hatless husband being swooped while running ahead of me, while I was left unscathed!
  • Wearing your sunglasses across the back of your head may help, as magpies don't like to attack from the front and prefer to swoop when they have the element of surprise.
  • Keeping the birds in sight will also help.
  • Attach cable ties to your helmet. This will prevent them from getting too close to your face, as the ties should “poke” them before they peck you.
  • Attach a long pole with a flag to your bike.
  • Two fingers pointing at the bird from the back of your head is also known to deter them – giving them the bird?

If you've been attacked, shout aggressively and jump around, waving your arms above your head. If you're on a bicycle, hop off and walk slowly, while waving and shouting.

All of the above will ensure that you look absolutely ridiculous, but will hopefully keep you from being pecked while out enjoying the fresh air and spring sunshine.

Posted in migration |
Posted by Marcia Mattushek
17 Aug 2010

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