Spring in Australia is when the birds attack… and their favourite target is cyclists

We may be heading into autumn up here in the northern hemisphere, but down under in Australia and New Zealand, spring is beckoning and for many of those countries’ cyclists that means one thing – magpie attacks. Now one Australian website has produced a video in which it attempts to literally give the magpie the bird.

The experiment, conducted by the website White Line Fever, isn’t admittedly the most robust piece of research in scientific terms – a drawing of a hand, middle finger extended, was fixed to the top of a cycle helmet and had no effect on the bird which continued to swoop down on the rider.

“But we discovered that magpies aren’t really angry,” reveals a blog post on the site. “They’re just doing they’re job and they’ve got a damn good reason to do it well. If they aren’t an effective defender of the nest, their magpie missus will simply give them the boot.

The site quotes a national survey that says that 90 per cent of Australian males and 72 per cent of females have been the victim of a magpie attack at some point, and in nearly half of attacks, the person on the receiving end happens to be a cyclist.

Tactics some have employed to ward off the birds include wearing an Afro wig – a tad impractical for daily use, perhaps, particularly in a country where helmets are compulsory – sticking cable ties on a bike helmet, or sticking fake eyes on a helmet, although apparently magpies have learnt to distinguish between those and real eyes.

“So wearing sunglasses and ear warmers are a pretty good start,” the site adds, “or riding with people who are slower than you gives safety in numbers.” Other advice includes the cyclist varying their route to avoid known hotspots.

While the Australian magpie is particularly infamous for its attacks on unwitting cyclists and pedestrians, and red-winged magpies are also known to attack people on bikes in North America, bike riders here in the UK often receive unwanted attention from our feathered friends too.

A few years back, a buzzard in Devon developed a certain notoriety among local cyclists following a series of attacks over a number of years.

Last year, a cyclist from the Isle of Wight who was growing a moustache as part of the Movember charity campaign found that his newly sprouted facial hair attracted the unwanted attention of a seagull, which bit his lip leading to him needing three stitches as well as a tetanus jab.

Chris Wells, aged 57, told Metro: “I was really cross and I am still spitting feathers now.

“Three stitches in my bottom lip – it was lucky it wasn’t the top one or my moustache days would be over.

“My moustache is grey, so maybe it thought it was dive-bombing a seal, or  it had mistaken my moustache for a chip. The doctor could hardly stop laughing, which is not good when they are stitching up your face.

“My wife hates the moustache and offered me £20 to shave it off after a week – this thing nearly made her wish come true,” added Mr Wells when the attack happened.

“Last week, a seagull splattered me with poo on the way to work, this week one smacks me in the face. Next week, at this rate, one will probably carry me off to its nest in its beak,” he concluded.


Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.