It’s magpie season in Australia, when highly intelligent and normally friendly birds suddenly turn feral and swoop on unsuspecting humans, sometimes quite viciously.
It seems that people wearing helmets are at a higher risk of attack than pedestrians. We have a friendly maggie that hangs around our house, but the other day he repeatedly made a lot of noise and did some fly-bys when I was standing on the driveway preparing to go riding. At the other end of the bridge we have what Tim calls the psychopath magpie which swoops like a stealth bomber, silently approaching and then hitting the side or back of the helmet.
Since both of these birds are quite tolerant of pedestrians, it made me wonder if the helmet is the problem. It might be that the shape and shininess of a helmet makes a cyclist appear bigger and more threatening than a pedestrian.
We tested the hypothesis by strapping a clown wig to my helmet. If you are going to do science you might as well look amusing.
With great trepidation, and feeling somewhat silly, I mounted the pushie and headed out. The first magpie did not make its presence felt at all which was good. Then I headed over the bridge into the territory of psycho. I saw it sitting on a low fence at the end of the bridge. It took off and flew some distance behind me and then attempted the swoop. As far as I can tell, it did not approach very closely and there was certainly no impact. Winner!
On the return trip I experienced a similar result.
There are a couple of other magpies on the Old Gunnedah Road, but neither came close enough to cause me any distress.
So artificial hair on the helmet does seem to make a positive difference. Whether the magpies will resume their previous aggression remains to be seen.
The one downside is that the wig stops the ventilation in the helmet so you wouldn’t want to do this on a hot day. Hopefully they will stop swooping before the weather gets too hot.
My optimism about the hairy helmet was short lived. The second day I tried it, the magpies had worked out there was a helmet under the wig. However on the way home, I started to pray as I approached each magpie territory and it seemed quite effective.