Every year between the months of July to November many cyclists are swooped by birds, some are slightly injured and a few seriously with a very small number losing an eye. Cyclists seem to be easy targets with bright helmets that draw the attention of birds that like shiny objects. Magpies are the most aggressive types, with their swooping and attacks being an attempt to drive intruders away from the nest tree.
WHY DO BIRDS SWOOP?
There are a number of explanations for this all-too familiar behaviour.
- Seasonal – protecting their young during mating season
- Territoriality — protecting their territory
- Testosterone — aggressive males
- Colour — suggestions birds are attracted to specific colours
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Being so common in Australia, this phenomenon has lead to the development of lots of counter-measures including:
- Eyes on the back of the helmet
The eyes-facing-backwards strategy is based on a sound behavioural theory that magpies tend to attack from behind and are less likely to do so if they think that they are being watched. Unfortunately, the jury is out on the overall effectiveness of this approach.
- Attaching ‘spikes’ (usually ‘zip-ties’) to the bike helmet
The spike methodf is commonly used as a deterrent to the magpie, suggesting an uncomfortable outcome should they get too close.
- Avoid areas where the birds swoop
Magpies limit their attacks to an area surrounding the nesting tree so simply avoiding known hot-spots is certainly the best bet. This is not always a viable option however where possible choosing a route that steers clear of known attack areas can reduce your stress levels and make for a much more enjoyable ride.
BIRDS THAT COMMONLY SWOOP
Magpies: About 9 –12 per cent of magpies will swoop aggressively (nearly all are male)
Butcher Birds: Both Australian species can show behaviour similar to that of magpies, and sport a fearsome beak.
Masked Lapwings or Plovers: Will swoop to protect eggs or young July–November.
Red Wattlebirds: Unlikely to make contact, but may snap their beaks and intimidate.
Willie Wagtails: Although small, they can become aggressive, sometimes giving victims tweaks on the head.
Noisy Miners: Often target domestic dogs and cats, or other birds, by mobbing.
Kookaburras: Known to swoop in order to pinch sausages from barbecues.
Gulls: Will dive-bomb fish-and-chip eaters, picnickers or patrons of seaside cafes.
For a list of areas to avoid in WA during this season, follow the link below.
This information has been sourced from:
Hurford, M. (6 Aug 2015) Angry Birds of Cycling: Bicycling online
Eastwood, K. (16 Feb 2010) Magpies – Avian air raders: Australian Geographic online
Jones, D. (31 Aug 2013) How to survive magpie swooping season: Life Hacker work online