Sharing your air space

Aerial attack: magpies are only aggressive for about six weeks of the year

Aerial attack: magpies are only aggressive for about six weeks of the year

As cyclists we place a high priority on sharing the road in a safe manner and respecting others with the hope of gaining respect back. There is one shared road space user that we have trouble with every year around this season on gaining a reciprocal response on our road usage in a safe manner.

Magpies are no sharers of respect when it comes to cyclists and from the reading that was undertaken for this weeks message it seems that single cyclist could well be a main antagoniser of our feathered friends.

Magpies are a member of the Corvid and are rated as extremely intelligent, curious and inquisitive. They are reputed to be one of the best singing birds and are well known for their birdsong melodic warbling that is uplifting, they have also been known to have the ability to mimic human speech. They are quite elegant and are an impressive bird with their distinctive black and white plumage.

Being territorial birds, up to ten magpies will sometimes group together in a ‘tribe’ to defend their home. However, most territories are ‘owned’ by a male and female pair. A territory will have sufficiently reliable feeding and watering areas, and tall trees for shelter and nesting.

Usually, the number of males in a group territory is less than the number of females. Young magpies and less successful mature birds band together in large flocks of up to several hundred birds.

Magpies breed in their own territory, which they defend against other magpies. The female usually does all the work: selecting the nest site – building the nest – incubating the eggs (between one and six eggs will be incubated for around three weeks) – feeding the young.

Magpies are only aggressive for six weeks of the year, around August/September, when they have chicks in the nest and for the rest of the year are very passive. Most magpies attack the same few individuals again and again, possibly because they remind the bird of someone who once hurt them. It is interesting to note that only the male attack (the female is too busy sitting on the eggs).

Once hatched, the young are fed in the nest for about four weeks. Within two years, the young magpies are forced by their parents to leave the territory. They join a group until they can take over a territory as an adult breeding bird. However, many young birds die in the first months of life due to poor weather conditions, lack of food, road traffic hazards and natural predators.

Many of us have childhood memories of aggressive magpies, and indeed, a national survey has found that 90 per cent of males and 72 per cent of females have been attacked by a magpie at some time in their life!

Magpies are less likely to swoop if you look at them, cyclists are best to dismount and slowly walk through the affected area. Do not harass, interfere or throw stones at birds as this only makes them more aggressive and defensive. Do not feed or befriend swooping birds. Stopping magpies swooping is not an option – making sure that you limit the risk of being struck seems the best approach.

The use of eyes on the bike helmet and sunglasses will only give a limited degree of pragmatic protection. Zippy ties on the helmet will give a bigger degree of separation where the offending male is more likely pull up short of making contact. Regardless cyclists will be as the riding through the protected zone represents a threat that the male responds by swooping.

The bottom line is being able to ride in a manner that will not cause an accident to yourself or another shared road user. Swerving can place the rider in the path of a car or ducking down may cause a fall. Safety in numbers is another option where the risk is considerably reduced, unless the bird has past history with a cyclist that looks familiar. The birds’ aim is to threaten or bluff and the intention is only to ward off intruders. Beak clacking is part of their defence strategy. In a strike attack, a magpie usually swoops, hovers momentarily and then strikes. The fluttering of wings as the bird hovers can be a warning to duck your head to avoid the attack. Holding your line on the road is important.

See you on the road soon God willing.

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