While out on my morning ride today, I was swooped by a magpie. A sudden flutter of wings around my ears, a slap on the helmet and two squawks – one from the bird, the other from me. Australian cyclists know the problem only too well.
It’s that time of year; magpies defend their territory during the nesting season. These handsome black and white birds have a pleasant, musical call, strong necks, sharp beaks and a nasty nature. They are carnivores, direct descendants of velociraptors, it would appear.
They are also cowards, according to the old wives’ tale. They know they’re a protected species in Australia (though a noxious pest in New Zealand). They won’t attack if they know you’re watching them. Sneaky assaults from behind are their modus operandi, and they’re particularly vicious if you’re a dog, a toddler or a shaky cyclist who needs to steer with both hands.
Melbourne has produced a useful magpie swooping map to warn people about black (and white) spots, where the birds are at their most deadly. Melbourne looks like a dangerous place. Alfred Hitchcock could have used it as the location for his film The Birds. It’s rumoured that Melbourne cyclists are leaving the city in droves and heading north, hoping we’re not quite as badly affected up here in Sydney.
Various solutions to the magpie problem have been suggested – carrying a golf umbrella, painting eyes on the back of a bike helmet, painting eyes on the back of a golf umbrella, attaching bird-repelling spikes, attaching bird-repelling spikes to eyes on a golf umbrella…
But we should all be grateful to a few courageous people who are prepared to put their heads on the line in the interests of scientific research and getting a laugh on YouTube: