Background: As the title says, magpies anywhere fiercely defend their nests. This is seen when magpies peck at domestic cats who are outside minding their own business often snoozing on the ground. Australia is hosting the UCI World Road Championships which despite meticulous planning designated the finish line at the coastal city of Wollongong, 60 miles south of Syndney, which is where there is a population of nesting Australian magpies, the males of which are much larger than the European species. There is even a sign saying: “Birds swooping. Dismount and walk your bike through this area. Magpies are nesting in this area.”
Knowing that background, you can guess what happened next. The highly motivated and large Australian magpies have been swooping on professional cyclists taking part in the UCI World Raod Championships. A Belgian rider, Remco Evenepoel, said: “It was terrifying. But that’s Australia, apparently. I hope it’s the only time it happens, but I am afraid of it”. He is one of several competitors who have been divebombed by the magpies.
The bird is native to Australia and Southern New Guinea and known for its singing and intelligence. They say the bird can remember up to 30 human faces but as the riders are finding out they are vicious protectors of their offspring during their peak September mating season.
The adult males which are much larger than the European species swoop on anything that they think is a threat. Daily, cyclists who are not competitors usually wear helmets with spikes on to deter the birds from attacking them. However, attacks on walkers are common and about a year ago a five-month-old girl died when her mother fell while being attacked by a magpie.
There are 1000 cyclists from 70 nations competing in the event and of course they can’t get off and walk as the signed states. The UCI World Road Championships are a major spectacle being watched by more than 300 million viewers on television.
Evenepoel, 22, who is the son of Patrick, the champion cyclist who won the 1993 Grand Prix de Wallonie, said: “A fairly large bird came very close, and it just kept following me”.
An Australian cyclist in the event, Grace Brown said that she was no fan of magpies and a Swiss competitor, Stefan Kung, also reported an incident. He said that “one of our guys has been attacked already by magpie”.
In one way it is slightly amusing but the cyclists travel at high speed and there is a risk that a magpie attack could cause a major incident. The organisers are concerned about safety.
In 2019 a cyclist died after suffering serious injuries when they were swooped on by a magpie. There is an organisation, Magpie Alert which records and collates magpie attacks in Australia, and they say that more than 1,500 attacks have occurred so far this season resulting in almost 200 injuries.
A local veterinarian working in Wollongong, Paul Partland, said: “Swooping birds tend to target people that are by themselves and also people that are moving in very fast ways. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are going to slow down the cyclists in their race to take a little side breather as the birds swoop by.”
My thanks to The Times hardcopy newspaper today, 20th Sept 2022.
Below are some more articles on birds.