CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

A Further Word About the Australian Magpie

What better way to conclude the Australasian Road Safety Conference, thought me, then to head out for a spot of cycling in Canberra, where spring is just on the wing. My guide was Ashley Carruthers, an anthropologist and member of local advocacy group Pedal Power (and my ride was a surprisingly nimble fold-up Dahon). Canberra is one of those intensely planned capital cities, its geography dictated by fiat and compromise, its layout and design (via the American Walter Burley Griffin) evoking, to my mind, D.C. — though, as Carruthers noted, reputedly infused with esoteric and hieroglyphic meanings. While the city, cycling wise, hasn’t gotten the attention of, say, Melbourne, with its new sharing scheme, Pedal Power boasts a large and active membership, and there’s a fairly wide trail network (though not much evidence of on-street cycling, in the area I was staying, at least).

Now, about that magpie, which I had tweeted about briefly in reference to its intoxicating song. It turns out they can be rather fierce enemies of those on bikes, swooping down from trees to land on their helmets and peck at their ears. As a countermeasure, riders will strap plastic twist-tie-like things to their helmets, virtually sprouting of their heads like gangly antennae. It was a bit unnerving to find a couple of these fellows coming toward me, the shock troops of some alien two-wheeled race. I’m not sure if this sort of thing happens elsewhere, but it was the first I had seen in such active preparation for avian attack. Yesterday, at least, the magpies were quiet.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 2nd, 2010 at 12:38 pm and is filed under Bicycles, Cities, Cyclists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “A Further Word About the Australian Magpie”

  1. townmouse Says:

    I’ve lost track of the link (it was on Copenhagenize, but some time ago) but some Australians did a video about the magpies, showing how most of the tactics (eyes, fuzzy things etc.) did nothing to deter the birds, but taking off your helmet did. Of course, that’s illegal in Australia, so you’re stuck with the magpies.

  2. Alex Turini Says:

    Hi Tom, shame I missed the conference in Canberra! Was hoping to get my book signed. Never mind. Here is the video that townmouse was talking about:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wHreVKgOT4

    I also invite you to have a look at the-RiotACT. It is a Canberra based online forum. The Transport section is a very popular place for locals to rant. Have a browse, have a laugh, and by all means contribute something useful :-)

    http://the-riotact.com/?cat=4

  3. Richard Green Says:

    On my commute to university there was a Magpie who swooped me. Since I was always prepared it caused little harm, but I did turn it into a game. Since I rode west in the morning and east in the afternoon, I could always see its shadow before me as it snuck up from behind [unlike the mynahs who are far worse, magpies generally avoid you if you face them]. This allowed me to crouch against the handlebars and jerk my head up at the right moment so the bird would cop a face full of helmet.

    Every spring for four years. Stupid bird never learned.

  4. Matt Says:

    I got done 4 times in 2 weeks when living in Brisbane. They come from behind and got me on the cheek and the back of the war. I was bleeding each time. Little bastards. But I love their song especially at full moon.

  5. Brent Says:

    @townmouse

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wHreVKgOT4

  6. Opus the Poet Says:

    I don’t know how it would work with magpies, but for jays and grackles here in TX putting 2 large ANSI Safety Lime ovals on the back of my helmet with stickers made them quit buzzing me during nesting season. I don’t know if it was the shape or the color or a combination of the two, but it worked.

  7. townmouse Says:

    @Brent – ah, cheers, I knew the internet would know!

  8. Geniene Prater Says:

    yeah and the little blighters were hanging around the conference too ;)

  9. Doug Faunt Says:

    To riff off your mention of the Melbourne bike-sharing scheme and Australia’s mandatory helmet law, it turns out the former is failing because of the latter. Who carries a helmet around in case they might want to use a bicycle?

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

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