RBR Newsletter

For the Birds: Reader Response to Magpie Attacks

Who knew that one great way to bridge the hemispherical divide was to talk about birds?

Last week’s article on Magpie attacks Down Under yielded a feathered nest of Comments and emails. It seems that all manner of birds – not just the dreaded “Maggies” – occasionally like to test their diving and swooping skills on unsuspecting cyclists, and not just in Australia. (In North America, it seems, the red-winged blackbird is a widespread menace, based on the number of mentions.) And plenty of Aussies seem to have loads of experience with the pesky Magpie, and have lots of good advice to share.

Following is a taste of those birds-of-a-feather Comments, for your reading pleasure (edited for brevity):

Submitted by outspokn

Not just Australia. A friend of mine was attacked by a falcon while riding near the Lancaster PA airport.  The bird made several diving attacks and struck his helmet once. Fortunately my friend was not injured. Being somewhat less than sympathetic to my friend, I told him that bird must have somehow known he was a diehard Eagles [football] fan.

Submitted by Kerry Irons

We do have the red-winged blackbird, whose range is the entire US and much of Canada and Central America. And they attack bicyclists. Every year here in Michigan it starts with them perching on power lines along the roadside in April, and about mid-May through mid-July they go into protection mode. They squawk, they bluster, they buzz you, and sometimes they hit you. And yes, occasionally our local government puts up signs along a bike trail when a particularly aggressive bird is about.  I've been hit on the helmet repeatedly.

Fortunately red-winged blackbirds are significantly smaller than magpies so the threat is less.  But the behavior is pretty much the same.

Submitted via email by Kate Hendrickson

Dear John, I read the article this morning and we in Illinois have our own little diving nemesis, "The Redwing Black Bird". Not only in the city of Chicago but in the suburbs these beauties have been an irritating encounter but were responsible for a death a few years ago. [A helmetless rider crashed, hit his head, and died.] I am sure you will hear more from others about our North American version as your e-news is read today. Always enjoy receiving it.

Submitted by leaton

Riders down under have my sympathy with the magpies. We have a bird here in the southeastern US that is very territorial during the spring, which has dive bombed me, but not near as aggressive as your stories would indicate. It's the mockingbird.

They tend to nest in busy areas, so bring it on themselves. I recently had an experience with one that had a nest in one of the few trees in the parking lot at my dentist's office. It would swoop on anyone coming and going to the office. Note that in the US we have a way to solve this problem if it gets serious enough. We vigorously maintain our gun rights here, so we have the option of completely eliminating the problem.

Submitted by andrew.swan

I have a lot of experience with magpies where I ride in Australia. My advice is to condition yourself to ignore them. Most birds swoop but don't actually make any contact. Either that or try and avoid them if they are particularly nasty. Worse than magpies are plovers, aka the masked lapwing (Vanellus miles) -- almost guaranteed to hit you in the head repeatedly. Fortunately, I don't see too many of them.

Submitted by Warwick Durrant

There is a Masked Lapwing family living in my street and find they attack, and I mean attack, when I go to the letterbox. Funny thing is, when I ride past the letterbox or other places where I see people being attacked when walking, they never bother me at all on the bike. I really hope this is not FAMOUS LAST WORDS!! -- Salamander Bay  NSW

Submitted by roberts.colin.20.20

We have the "maggies" in country Queensland which swoop, but a couple of things I have noticed:

- They usually only attack a loner - either pedestrian or cyclist

- They don't attack if you have made a habit of passing through 'their' territory in a non-intimidating way. I have both a regular warm-up cycle path and a regular lunch-time walking path, each pass through magpie territories and, in the season, I don't get swooped, but others do. They also don't attack around our home, and often walk very close to us.

- When they do attack on the road I ride one-handed - the other hand resting on my helmet, or waving above my head. The attack ends when you leave their territory.

- In the normal season they are a beautiful bird with wonderful warbling songs and calls.

Submitted by jeelmblad

Never been attacked by a magpie. The real danger here on the front range of Colorado is the Red Winged Blackbirds. One banged my helmet in nesting season, and down I went .... hard. Embarrassing, yes, but a great story after a few frosty beverages!

Submitted by RDG

I always dread this time of the year. Just imagine having a relaxing ride on a beautiful spring day and someone unexpectedly punches you in the back of the head or shoulder, not once but several times.

There are various methods used by cyclists to avoid being hit by magpies, such as covering your helmet with cable ties so it resembles a porcupine or sticking cut out eyes to the back of your helmet to deter an attack. There is even a website dedicated to this problem:

I saw one cyclist that had constructed a scaffolding barrier made of thin fiberglass rods attached to his bike just behind the saddle, such is the fear created by the swooping magpie! I have eyes on the back of my helmet made from a table tennis ball cut in two. They still attack but tend not to make actual contact.

Submitted by beccanet68

I was dive-bombed by a Bluejay in Jackson, Mississippi, one time while walking along the street (I have no idea why). That's the ONLY time I've ever been attacked by a bird, and I certainly hope to keep it that way.  I'm certainly glad the buzzards that are in abundance in the South are not prone to the same behavior!

Submitted by energizer

This Canadian was dive-bombed by a magpie while cycling out west of Brisbane in July 2006 (Australian winter).

While we have lots of magpies (at least a bird we call the magpie) here on the Prairies, the birds in Queensland were a lot smaller and a whole lot more aggressive. This one little fellow must have followed me almost a km and made half a dozen close "swoops".  Hmm, talk about riding distracted ... me riding on what to me was the "wrong" side of the road, turning around and flapping my arms to ward him off.  Fortunately no contact made and no damage done.


Upcoming eArticles from Coach John Hughes, Dr. Alan Bragman

We’ve got a few new eArticles and eBooks on the way soon from the prolific – and terrific! – Coach John Hughes, and other authors.

First, here’s what’s on tap from Coach Hughes:

  • In early November, look for a new edition in his Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond series on cross-training, just in time for the off-season.
  • Next up will be another Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond installment, in early January tentatively titled Your Best Year Ever. It will utilize the concept of periodization – from the off-season into base training, build (spring) training, and peaking – to show you how to achieve your best year ever on the bike.
  • And then, starting in February, we’ll bring you a new Touring series of eArticles that will provide loads of useful information on how best to plan, train for, and ride multi-day tours. It’s something that will benefit both old touring hands and touring neophytes alike.

New Shoulder Injury Treatment and Prevention eArticle

Dr. Alan Bragman has a new title, as well, Shoulder Injuries and Cycling: A Guide to Treatment and Prevention, coming soon.

Shoulder injuries are extremely common with cyclists, Dr. Bragman points out. In fact, both he and I have had one.

Understanding the shoulder’s anatomy, and the various exercises used to address the different types of shoulder injuries or problems, can benefit cyclists – whether you’re trying on your own to overcome a less-serious shoulder problem or working with a physical therapist or other medical professional to rehabilitate a traumatic injury.

This knowledge, and the various strengthening exercises, may also help you avoid some of the typical shoulder problems as well. They are recommended for overall strengthening and stability of the upper extremities, with the goal of increasing your riding comfort and avoiding injury.


Just Shy of 800 Readers Weighed in on Last Week's Question

What Type of Chain Lube Do You Use?

A wax lube (like White Lightning).
A dry lube (like Finish Line Dry Teflon).
A thin-bodied wet lube (like ProLink or Dumonde Tech).
A thick wet lube (like Chain-L).
Some other secret sauce.
Something else entirely different.
Total votes: 796


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