“Can a man be less wise than a bird? » Asked like that, the question may make you smile, but the Chinese philosopher Confucius was perhaps right to wonder. Birds are not man’s best friend, let alone in Australia, where the World Cycling Championships are currently taking place.
It’s simple, many runners have been targeted by the river cassicanmore commonly known as the Australian magpie and nicknamed “the flying killer whale” due to its aggressiveness, which is of particular concern in the peloton.
In a video, South African Hayley Preen showed one of these attacks, without losing her smile. As it rolls, we see the bird sting towards its helmet repeatedly and try to catch it with its beak.
Experience lived in a quasi-similar way by the Dutchman Bauke Mollema, charged by an Australian magpie, recognizable by its black and white plumage, and by a seagull in the space of two days, and the Belgian Remco Evenepoel. “A bird of very respectable size approached me and kept following me. It was terrifying, has also indicated the recent winner of the Vuelta, attacked while making his first training outing on the spot. It scares me. But that’s apparently how it is in Australia. » In Australia and almost everywhere else, with specific territories and species.
“They do this to protect their young on the ground”
In France, the buzzard is the most talked about species for this kind of “attack”. And according to Pierre-Damien Masson, administrator at the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) Brittany and volunteer with regard to wildlife in distress, the parallel holds with the Australian magpie. “It’s the same principle. This type of bird does not naturally attack humans. When this is the case, it means that we are taken for predators and that they want to defend their territory. »
To say that bird attacks are frequent is an understatement. They occur mainly on the east coast of Australia. “It’s their range because the rest of the country is much drier, infers Pierre-Damien Masson. They do this to protect their young who spend time on the ground, where they are fed. And since they sometimes move away from the nest, when you enter their territory a little, the male or female goes into protection mode. » The presence of a threat on its nesting territory, which extends over a perimeter of a hundred meters, has the gift of making the Australian magpie nervous.
Site lists all attacks in Australia
His attacks are so repeated in Australia that a website, explicitly named “magpiealert.com” (translate “Magpie Alert”), lists and locates all the offensives of the flute cassican according to their severity. Most of them are fortunately inconsequential, but they do occasionally cause injuries.
The Australian magpie can repeatedly dive towards the target and aim, with its beak, at the head, face and sometimes the eyes. In 2019, a 76-year-old cyclist even died in Wollongong, precisely where the Worlds are taking place this week, after hitting a pole while trying to escape one of these attacks.
On the “magpiealert.com” site, you can read many testimonials. “The magpie dove towards me five times while I was riding my bike. She scratched my face and knocked me off my bike”describes Emily R. “I sometimes ride without my hands on my handlebars in order to wave my arms above and beside my head”, explains Mel D. The instructions are then clear: keep an attentive ear to detect warning signals, remain calm at the risk of making the birds even more aggressive, wear sunglasses and a helmet (or hat for pedestrians) and, if possible, face them since attacks often come from behind. “It seems easy to say, but above all you must not make big gestures, slow down if you are moving and bend down to the ground”adds Pierre-Damien Masson, at LPO Bretagne.
Antennas on the helmet for protection?
The common point of these assaults is often the same: the people attacked are riding bicycles or motorbikes. The explanation is quite simple. “In general, the more the person has colorful clothes and the faster he moves, the more he is assimilated to a predator”, continues Pierre-Damien Masson. The pace of cyclists entered in the world championships, who can sometimes reach more than 60 km/h on slightly descending sections, therefore logically increases the risks.
The Swiss Stefan Küng, second in the time trial at the Worlds last weekend, also explained that one of his teammates had been targeted. “Some advise us to stick antennae on our helmets to scare away the birds. But it’s not very aerodynamic so we’re not going to do it. »
It’s not very aerodynamic and it’s not very effective either, if we are to believe this testimony on the famous site where the attacks are listed. “I tried and I had put about twenty on my helmet. This did nothing to deter the magpie who still attacked me in front of the house”, we read about the antennas. In the event of a fall, there is also doubt that the safety of the cyclist is fully ensured… In France, the principle is the same as in Australia. Any attack by birds must be reported to the LPO network (League for the Protection of Birds) and/or the town hall concerned.