Sharing the road with feathered friends

Cable ties on your helmet can stop swooping birds making contact with your helmetA thwack on the back of the head with no warning – it must be spring time. The cycling grapevine is already humming with reports of where birds are swooping unsuspecting riders.

Birds swoop to protect their territory, especially when they are nesting. They can take an interest in the area up to 50 m around their nest, which can easily take in cycle paths and roads. Swooping is a scare tactic and one that works rather well! What’s to be done?

The Department of Sustainability and Environment posts information and advice about swooping birds on its web site: <www.dse.vic.gov.au/swoop>. DSE recommends avoidance as the best strategy.

Avoid the swoop area. Try riding in a different direction. Cyclists should always wear a helmet. It is better to dismount and walk your bike past a swoop area.

Put up warning signs for others who may not be aware that there are swooping birds in the area. (DSE sells warning signs and posters for this purpose.)

Travel in a group. Most birds only swoop individuals DSE suggests, although I know from experience this is not always the case.

Do not panic and run. It will only encourage a swooping bird to continue its attack. Be confident and face a swooping bird – usually they only attack people facing away from them.

Magpies appear to be dissuaded from swooping when they are being watched says DSE, so try sticking ‘eyes’ on the back of your helmet. Even sunglasses stuck backwards on a helmet seem to have this effect too.

Magpies around Bendigo must be clever birds though. I have heard of be-stickered cyclists still being attacked by black and white feathered projectiles.

Last year a new weapon made an appearance that seems to be more effective. You may have seen people riding around with cable ties sprouting from their helmets. They were anything from 50 to 300 mm long. Those who tried them say they work and the longer the cable tie the better.

All these “deterrents” simply aim to stop you being struck by the bird. They’ll still swoop, but not as close.

In spite of avoidance, eyes and cable ties, some birds are unusually aggressive. While all native birds are protected, DSE says that as a last resort a bird will be destroyed. But you must be able to show that avoidance strategies have failed.

Take care during nesting season. See you on the road soon, God willing.

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