With a feathery threat lurking in the trees, Margot McGovern asks: how will you escape swooping season unscathed?
There’s lots to love about spring riding: not freezing your finger tips off, riding home from work through sunlit streets and watching bare branches turn green and leafy around you. But spring also brings a treetop terror that casts a feathery shadow over even the sunniest of rides. I speak of that insidious, swooping bird of prey—the magpie.
Every year, from as early as August, the Ride On inbox fills with letters recounting malicious attacks that leave innocent riders dazed and bloody-eared on the side of the bike path. For riders, these demons of the sky are not to be trifled with. They have personal preferences in their choice of victim. We’re told some will only target unlucky men, women and children on bikes, while others will lock-in on walkers instead.
Some like lone victims, while others prefer the challenge of a pack attack. So, in the interests of public safety, Ride On has trawled through bike forums and asked the experts: how do you successfully avoid being swooped by these devious dive bombers?
We received some great answers, both varied and contradictory: speed up, slow down, travel in groups, go solo, get off your bike and walk, don’t get off your bike. Some strategies were perfectly sensible: put up a sign or post on your local ‘magpie map’ to warn other walkers and riders that magpies have set up camp in the area and take a detour until nesting season is over (you should be safe by November). Others strategies were, shall we say, a little less conventional. The Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment provides a printable set of ‘swoop eyes’ to cut out and stick on the back of your helmet, the idea being that magpies won’t launch a front attack and sticking eyes on the back of your head will fool them into thinking you are the all-seeing demi-god of shared-use paths.
Our most popular reader tip was the old faithful ‘use cable ties or pipe cleaners on the helmet’ trick. Some believe flashing lights scare them off, while others swear a zany wig over your helmet is the way to go. Other suggestions included throwing sand (the logistics of doing this while riding left us slightly baffled), firing cap-gun, or, our personal favourite, attaching party poppers to your helmet and pulling the string as the maggie swoops—you have to time it just right though.
…your chances of surviving a magpie attack are likely to be as good if you leave the alien antennae and Big Brother eyes at home.
If scare tactics aren’t your forte, you can offer them a piece of meat and they will supposedly leave you alone thereafter, or you could don a Collingwood scarf and let them know you’re on the same team (just think how much Eddie McGuire would love it!).
In our search for answers, we asked if these ideas were so crazy they just might work, or were they just plain bonkers? The bad news is experts say there’s little evidence to suggest any of these tactics consistently yield positive results. The good news, your chances of surviving a magpie attack are likely to be as good if you leave the alien antennae and Big Brother eyes at home.
The best tactic it seems is ‘know your enemy’. Magpies are smart, extremely territorial and will swoop riders from up to 100m away from their nest. Almost all attacks are made by male birds that see riders and pedestrians as a threat to their young, and, to be fair, if an army of Godzillas were riding bikes past your newborn, you’d be extremely protective too. Despite the jokes, our advice to avoid a beak in the head is to show these birds the respect they deserve and take a detour—at least until they get their young out of the nest.
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