The warmer spring days for cyclists in Australia mean two things: great riding weather and magpies. To anyone unfamiliar with these birds, it should be noted before continuing that they are a truly beautiful member of the Corvid family and their call is one of the iconic sounds of the Australian bush. Come nesting time, however, the males become very aggressive towards perceived threats to their newly hatched chicks.
It may sound strange to an outsider why such a fuss is made until they discover that there have been numerous serious injuries resulting from the "swooping" birds. This is mainly from cyclists crashing while trying to avoid being hit by a rampaging avian, but there has also been serious eye injury (blindness) and much blood spilt (mainly human).
So, there are the gory details. Now, what is the solution? Here are our 10 tips to surviving magpie season in Australia
1. Avoid the birds
The best way to survive is avoid the birds altogether. Every year the same birds are doing the same stuff. You get to know pretty quickly where the bad ones hang and skip that area. You can also check out MagpieAlert.com, Australia's social website to see and report where there have been bird attacks across the whole country.
2. Ride in a bunch
Magpies (members of the Corvid family and therefore very intelligent and also endowed with a good memory) will often attack the same person repeatedly, so try and ride in a bunch with someone who has already had an encounter with the local bird. The other benefit is it reduces your chances of being picked out for attack — just try and get to the front.
3. Put silly things on your helmet
Zip ties, pipe cleaners, whatever. Watch this - they DON'T work!
4. Don't wear a helmet
As in the video above, it is obvious riding without a helmet results in no attacks at all. Unfortunately, in Australia it is illegal to ride a bike without a helmet. On pain of a healthy fine and dressing down by your local policeman. I will probably get in trouble for even suggesting it, so forget this point altogether, please.
5. Keep your head down and ride
Just harden up, put the hammer down, and ride through the onslaught. It's just a bird after all.
Did You Know?
Magpies are known to swoop at speeds of 70-80 kph (44 mph). Consider your getaways part of your sprint training regimen.
6. Wave your arms around like a maniac
It may stop the magpie whacking you on the head, but I think most bird swooping related injuries were possibly a result of doing this while riding a twitchy road bike on a busy road. Be careful!
7. Try to eye off the bird
It's true, I've actually tried this with success. It seems magpies are less likely to swoop if you can keep your eyes on them. Unfortunately, this is not only dangerous when riding a bike on the road, but as previously mentioned (point 2), magpies are smart. The bird I did this to learnt quickly and after a short while changed tactics. He began his dive bomb by lining up on my 6 o'clock, 1 foot of the ground, then as he reached my rear wheel flew up and struck my helmet from behind. Smart bugger.
8. Paint eyes on your helmet
You would think this could possibly work... it doesn't. See the opening video and tip #3.
9. Get off and walk
Although walkers do also get attacked at times, magpies seem much more interested in helmet wearing cyclists. One solution is get off your bike, take off your helmet, and walk the few hundred meters until you are out of the danger zone. Or you could just follow tip 5 — stay on your bike, get some interval training, and save those expensive carbon soled Italian road shoes.
10. Go for a spring holiday
Go for a cycling holiday in a country where the wildlife isn't constantly trying to kill, eat, or maim you. Come on, what is it with Australia?