Magpie Attacks – Spring Riding Warning

Spring is now well and truly here and that means Magpie swooping season will be in full force just as we try to clock up some country miles to regain fitness in time for Summer.

Having been repeatedly attacked on my solo Rotorua rides (by three at once in one instance), I developed a bit of a fear / phobia of the ‘Sky Orca’ .   So I set out to bolster my mental well-being by being better prepared and in doing so I have found learning about the issue and watching these videos very reassuring and cathartic.

Now I’m pleased to report that it has become a bit of a sport to see how many times I can get one to have a go before it gives up…I’m laughing the whole time.
The best I managed to get out of one is 5 ‘hits’ on my helmet…in fact I’ve become so accustomed to it that now I’m almost disappointed when they just stand on the side of the road and watch me go by …I miss the break in the monotony on a long solo ride !!!!

So what is a Magpie Attack all about …????
 Firstly, to see exactly what a typical attack is like  –  click here   –   you will be amazed at how aggressive these birds are !!!!
( thanks to VORB.CO.NZ and a camera in the back of the helmet of a cyclist cruising down a country road at about 40 Kph  – the video may take a little while to load)

There is also an article by ‘The Pink Triathlete’    click on this link  which adds some good advice similar to what we suggest below and a link to the same video.
The good news is that obviously other cyclists have suffered the same menacing intimidation and I am pleased to say it is not so hard to get over it and just ignore them.

What NOT to do.
This is CLASSIC ! …..Here’s a really funny video that we want to share with you …it explores all the defensive options.

For a few more videos of Magpie attacks on cyclists… including one on a child on a bicycle in Aussie  (being slightly careless with road rules – and that’s the danger of the distraction) – click here 

Magpies were introduced deliberately into NZ from Australia in the late 1950s to rid farmland of some other pests …sounds so familiar doesn’t it ? …. what a numpty idea !  However as they kill native species and damage the ecosystem they are no longer protected and they are now regarded as a pest themselves.

Why they do it.
They swoop to ward off perceived threats to their nests.  They will defend their young with little regard to their own safety. Whilst it is a display of bluff and bravado ( much like Tonto’s cycling ) which they only maintain within approximately 50 – 100m of their nest,  they give it their all and they seem to chase you over a long distance !

Typical Attack Behaviour.
In the first dive or two they love to clack their beak  and / or make a cracking sound with their wings – all bluff and bravado maybe, but it can give you a fright at first if you don’t know it’s coming. If you are lucky (unlucky? ) you will see their shadow on the road as they approach.

This is usually followed as in the videos above by more and more daring attacks – up to 10 or so swoops – within about 5- 10 seconds of each other and often crashing themselves into your helmet – this is the really unnerving behaviour as the force can be quite strong – strong enough to knock you off balance – believe me it’s true  – but try to laugh it off rather than fall off  (…..yeah …ha ha ha).

Things To Do When Being Buzzed By a Magpie
Having viewed the superbly funny and informative film clips you will now realise there is not much you can do – unless you REALLY do want to look like a complete idiot and wear a pair of cut out eyes and ‘oingo boingo’ helmet adornments.
We do NOT suggest you take your helmet off as in the video clip – there is no evidence that this would work consistently or anywhere other than with the particular city conditioned Magpie involved in the clip.
So what can you do?

  • The best strategy – though it will take some nerve and conditioning – is to simply ignore them.
  • If you are lucky you will see the shadow of them on the road as a warning to prepare you.
  • Do not duck as you will only expose the back of your neck which might result in you getting an annoying scratch or peck there.
  • Slow down rather than speed up and ride a steady relaxed line with  concentration on control of your bike – not on the bird.
  • Do not wave your arm at them or shout at them – it only makes them more aggressive and is really dangerous for you on your bike especially around any other traffic.
  • If you are really getting a psycho ‘set to’ from these birds, as a last resort to defend yourself you could stop, take out your front wheel and use it as a giant bird swatter – however you might actually hurt or kill one doing this so as animal lovers we do not recommend this unless you are in real trouble !
  • The Aussies recommend stopping , dismounting and walking through the area ( It’s up to you but I always just want to keep on the move and if you are on a downhill , by the time you have stopped you are nearly clear anyway).
  • The Aussies also suggest you do not try to destroy their nests – it may make them breed even more prolifically.
  • Once you have identified an attack spot you can report it to the local council and they should action an eradication – Magpies are no longer protected and have been officially designated a pest. Or if you see the farm owner he or she might help out with this.
  • They don’t seem to attack cyclists riding tightly in a line of three or more. ( I’d love some verification of this please? )