The Baron and I: learning how to live with a magpie fighter ace

Posted 15 Oct, 2015/ under Sport & Fitness
By Rich Bowden

They say that only around ten percent of magpies swoop and only a minor number dangerously but I swear that most of them live in my new hometown. In particular there’s one that has taken an acute interest in my cycling prowess. This is the magpie called (by me) the Baron, as in Baron von Richtofen.

Like the Baron of old, this magpie is daring, dashing, a fighter ace and manages to scare the pants off humble cyclists like me. His method is similar to the First World War ace, soaring to great heights, then diving out of the sun, thereby making himself almost invisible until the strike.

It’s very off putting, disconcerting and even unsafe to suddenly find out that your cycling helmet is under attack from a determined terror suspect.

At least it’s given me the chance to make a few observations after spending a couple of months of being under attack by the Baron and his Flying Corp.

  1. Magpies have a malicious sense of humour. I’m convinced of this. Even after all the research points to magpies swooping to protect their nests, sometimes you get the impression that they are dive bombing unsuspecting cyclists, joggers and pedestrians just for fun. Certainly this is the case with the Baron who (I swear) has a feathered equivalent of a grin from ear to ear as he banks back into his tree preparing for his next superbly-executed manoeuvre.
  2. Magpies could sit the HSC. They’re smart birds, amongst the smartest in the feathered world according to my research online. They are able to recognise faces and, if they take a dislike to a person, will remember them for years to come.
  3. Magpies are tricksters. Yep, so watch out. Twice now I have had the experience of being divebombed while on my bike and stopping and trying to eyeball the Baron. This on the assumption that magpies only attack from the rear and don’t like to be watched. Once my feathered friend was aware he was being watched, he sat in the tree and literally turned his back to me. It was as though he had lost interest. Like a fool I pedalled off, only to be divebombed the next second by the grinning Baron. Like I said...tricksters.

Are there successful strategies to avoid being swooped from the sky? Maybe. After trying out various options, I’ve managed to put together a method that works most days as I pedal slowly around the streets awaiting the Baron’s inevitable attacks from the skies.

The best is to identify magpie nesting areas and draw an imaginary circle around 100 metres from the nest. Here communication with other cyclists, pedestrians, joggers and locals is helpful, as is checking online sites such as Magpie Alert. Then change your usual route accordingly for a couple of months.

If however you are attacked from our feathered friends, the best strategy for a cyclist may be to slow down, get off your bike, eyeball the bird and walk backwards away from the nest. Never under any circumstance lose your temper. This just makes them more aggressive the next time they see you.

Magpies are amazing birds, so full of character and verve that it’s hard not to like them, even if they are swooping and pecking around your ears at this time of year. So enjoy their unique carolling, their bossy character, their quintessential Australianness. Just keep your head down and buy a good helmet!

By Rich Bowden

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