Australia braces for magpie attack season
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If you were scared by Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller “The Birds”, you’d better not go to southeast Australia in spring, which takes place from September to October. That’s when male Australian magpies get extremely aggressive. The big black and white birds often swoop down and attacks humans who get too close to their nests, sometimes even seriously wounding them.
Spring is the season when Australian magpies lay their eggs and the male birds take their role of protector very seriously. Perhaps too seriously. These paranoid birds frequently decide that innocent passers-by – especially cyclists – are threats to their growing families. They systematically launch surprise attacks on their victims, swooping in from behind. Then, they violently peck people’s necks, faces and sometimes even eyes.
Every spring, videos and photos showing magpie attacks start circulating on social media. Most of this footage comes from cameras mounted on cyclists’ helmets.
Unfortunately, these magpie attacks aren’t just scary, they can also cause real damage. Last year, a rogue magpie attacked four children and a baby at a popular playground. They angry bird went straight for the children’s eyes. A six-year-old boy almost lost his eye and a ten-month-old baby’s sight was damaged.
The website Magpie Alert was launched to warn people about where attacks were taking place, which is often near magpie nests. Many magpie victims also share their stories on the site.
"The magpie swooped on me from behind, hit the side of my face and started pecking my forehead, drawing blood,” said one victim.
“I was cycling when a magpie swooped at me three times, causing me to fall off of my bicycle and scrape myself,” said another.
Other people shared stories that are dramatic, but didn’t result in injuries.
Is there a way to protect yourself from magpies? One website lists a series of rather extreme techniques to avoid magpie attacks, including mounting an empty, plastic ice cream tub on your helmet (so in case of attack they hit the empty tub, not your face), putting colorful zipties on your helmet to distract them, using an umbrella to fend them off or… drawing eyes on the back of your helmet to disorientate them! Several Australians have filmed themselves trying these techniques, with varying degrees of success.
Our Observer says the best strategy is to try to get away as quickly as possible.
"You should put your head down and peddle fast!”Clint Burfitt lives in Adelaide, in southeastern Australia. He’s an avid biker. He has posted several photos of his unfortunate encounters with magpies on Facebook.
My friends and I have tried all the different techniques and none of them work consistently. I don’t think you can really protect yourself from these attacks. Putting zipties on your helmet doesn’t work and neither does drawing eyes on your helmet. Biking in a zig-zag doesn’t work either. I don’t think it’s a good idea to stop peddling and try to fight them off – I don’t want to get hurt! I’ve never been hurt myself but I have seen the damage they do to people and, frankly, it is pretty painful.
Our Observer Clint and his girlfriend Debbie were attacked by magpies during a bike ride in September 2016 near Adelaide.
My conclusion is that if you are attacked, you should put your head down and pedal as fast as you can! The attacks don’t last for long because magpies don’t like going too far away from their nests. So all you have to do is give it your all for a short distance. It’s actually a good workout!
Ultimately, you need to be vigilant. Also, it is important to remember that the attack season is very short – it only lasts between four to six weeks. Some people have called for an eradication of magpies, but that seems like going too far to me. They are part of life here in Australia and, like it or not, they are part of the country’s natural heritage. Australians know this and just deal with them.