Support road.cc

Like this site? Help us to make it better.

Has an Aussie cyclist finally found the way to stop magpies attacking riders?

Gardening bird scarer tape on helmet said to prevent 75 per cent of attacks

It’s springtime Down Under right now – and for many cyclists in Australia, that means a season of fending off unwelcome attacks from less-than-friendly magpies. But now, one rider from Queensland thinks he may have found a solution to deter them from swooping down on him, by using bird scarer tape of the kind that can be bought cheaply from a local hardware store.

Paul Heymans, head of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Users Association told abc.net.au that he had come across the idea by chance after putting ribbons on his cycle helmet, resulting in fewer attacks.

“It came about because we were doing some work with some ribbons and helmets, just something a little bit fancy for an event,” he explained.

“I happened to notice that the magpies that used to attack me were actually avoiding me.

“I don't know why we didn't think of it before. It does the job and that's what it's designed to do.”

Somerset Regional Council has bought 2,000 metres of the tape, which is usually used by gardeners to protect plants, and is distributing it to riders via local tourist information centres close to the 161-km trail.

“It's not 100 per cent effective,” Mr Heymans said. “I reckon it's about 85 per cent effective, but it does work.

“I tried it out on one of the worst magpies [in the area] — he wasn't very impressed by two strands of tape, and I tried them on four strands and it worked.

“It's a bit like a Medusa effect at the back of your helmet, where you've got these silver things waving.”

Other measures adopted by cyclists – with, it has to be said, varying degrees of success – to try and deter magpies defending their territory include putting stickers on their helmets to create the illusion of eyes, or threading cable ties through to make a spiky surface.

Mr Heymans said: “One of the problems we have with the real psycho magpies that are extremely aggressive towards people is that if they get too bad, then they're very often relocated.

“That's actually quite cruel for the magpie because if they go into another magpie's territory, they are very likely to be attacked and possibly even killed by the other magpies.”

He added that he hoped the availability of the tape would encourage people who are fearful of being attacked to use the trail during magpie season, with visitor numbers typically dropping in the two or three months of the year when the problem is at its worst.

In 2016, we reported how Queensland-based behavioural ecologist Darryl Jones believes that magpies remember their victims.

> Cyclist-attacking magpies remember their victims

“If they think you’re a threat, they will follow you and attack you for years," he said.

It is believed that around 9 per cent of the magpie population in Australia becomes aggressive during nesting season,  and that cyclists are the target of one in two attacks on people, with the birds typically swooping down on the rider’s head from behind.

“Magpies only attack when there are chicks in the nest, so if there are going to be more chicks, there are going to be more attacks,” Jones said in 2016, when a mild winter meant an unusually early start to the nesting season.

He added: “If you’ve been attacked in the past, you’ll probably get attacked in the future.”

Road.cc's resident Australian passport-holder John Stevenson adds:

From the Northern hemisphere being swooped by a magpie sounds faintly comical, but the Australian magpie Gymnorhina tibicen is quite a bit bigger than the Eurasian magpie Pica pica — the two are only very distantly related — and has a considerably beefier beak. The first you know of being swooped is when you hear a loud cracking noise by your ear. It's startling as all hell, and it's not unusual for the strike to draw blood. I had to change my route to work one year because it felt likely that the magpie that kept swooping me was sooner or later going to make me swerve under a truck. If Paul Heymans has found a way to deter them, it could be the biggest ever improvement in Australian cycling road safety.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

Add new comment

10 comments

Avatar
OldRidgeback | 2 years ago
0 likes

The crows in my local park can be very aggressive when they have chicks. They will swoop down and chase people or dogs they take a dislike to and I have seen them chase cyclists. 

Avatar
CygnusX1 | 2 years ago
3 likes

Just how typically aussie can a cycling helmet be? Just look at the brim* on that (suprised its not corks on strings instead of silver reflefctive tape!) 

* yes, I realise it's an add-on

 

Avatar
CygnusX1 replied to CygnusX1 | 2 years ago
3 likes

If anyone's in the market for one just found them online: https://sunbrims.com.au/product/cycling-classic-helmet-brim-2/

Avatar
ktache replied to CygnusX1 | 2 years ago
0 likes

I know it's aussie dollars, but pricey...

Avatar
Captain Badger | 2 years ago
4 likes
Quote:

“I tried it out on one of the worst magpies [in the area] — he wasn't very impressed by two strands of tape, and I tried them on four strands and it worked.

Counting Crows?

Avatar
Cuddy75 | 2 years ago
2 likes

Surely if you live in Oz you are used to everything trying to kill you so a grumpy bird is to be expected? Best deterant is a bigger bird, train a hawk to fly alongside when riding and that will keep magpies away.

Avatar
Philh68 replied to Cuddy75 | 2 years ago
0 likes

Yeah, I just call them interval training 😁 We have larger birds that do it too, masked lapwings are worse because they just fly straight at you, they nest on open ground wherever they damn well please and elevate helicopter parenting to a whole new level. And there's been reports that crows are now imitating the magpies. This time of year the venemous snakes are out too, but unless it's an Eastern Brown you startled, they prefer to leave you alone.

The real hazard is automobilius moronicus but they're a problem everywhere…

Avatar
Sriracha | 2 years ago
4 likes

Don't they put you in prison down under if you make any modifications to your bike helmet?

Avatar
Philh68 replied to Sriracha | 2 years ago
0 likes

Not quite that bad, but yes you are not meant to attach anything to the helmet because it could interfere with the helmet sliding on impact and may exacerbate injuries.

Avatar
brooksby | 2 years ago
1 like

Take off and nuke them from orbit; it's the only way to be sure  3

Latest Comments