Magpies look like crows with white on their black wings and back. They are smart, able to make dozens of different interesting noises, and mimic other birds, and they are said to have some of the best facial recognition of any bird. They are also very territorial and aggressive, especially during mating or nesting season. And they seem to take a particular dislike to cyclists!
In Australia you can often see people with zip ties on their bike helmets. It’s weird at first, they stick up crazily. Then you realize why they do it. This is to widen the swoop zone of their head â€“ a male magpie defending its territory might still swoop you, but it will pull up at the zip ties instead of potentially landing on your head and pecking at your neck and face.
Sound scary? It is! There’s nothing quite like being attacked from above by a flying creature, even if it only weighs a pound. It’s quite terrorizing. It affects your entire ride. One morning you hear the subtle but telling swish of wings just over behind you â€“ always behind â€“ and you duck your head, a close call! You crane your neck to see the magpie, blinding between the sun, coming about for another swoop. Don’t crash your bike now, but if you don’t keep your eyes on him, he’ll keep on coming, much like a semi-feral dog. Many people have been injured by these birds, and if you’re a child, protect your eyes and don’t let them knock you to the ground. For real, these magpies are horrific. They make you think of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and shiver. They make you look over your shoulder the rest of the day, and glare suspiciously at every bird, or shadow of a bird.
They made me want to go to war against all magpie kind.
In the end I took some advice from Nic in Canberra, and painted a pair of nice bright eyes on the back of my helmet. Apparently they break off the attack if they can see the whites of your eyes… and I never got swooped after that, so I guess it worked.