Hitchcock in Wollongong: cyclists threatened by birds
Cyclists know several enemies: the wind, the gradient, cramps… In Wollongong, at the Road Cycling World Championships, another threat looms over their heads: the flute-carrying Cassican, better known as the Australian Magpie.
Remco Evenepoel, who has just returned from Spain where he won the Vuelta, will not forget his first training outing in Australia. “Suddenly a bird of a very respectable size came up to me and continued to pursue me. It was scary,” said the Belgian champions upon his return.
Although he avoided an attack, “he hopes it doesn’t happen again”. “It scares me. But that’s how it is in Australia apparently,” he added.
The phenomenon is well known to Australians, who know to be careful of the skies from September to October. We then enter the “dive season”, literally the season of swoops, when birds, and in particular the black currant, a medium-sized passerine bird with black and white plumage, can be very aggressive towards those who approach too close to their nest: Pedestrians, joggers and especially cyclists, their preferred target, because the faster you move, the more the birds feel threatened and attack.
The magpies may then pounce on their prey, aiming their powerful beak at the head, face, neck, or eyes. Sometimes they also “stick in a bomb” and hit the intruders head-on.
This scenario, worthy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds, is far from anecdotal and represents a real concern, as evidenced by the testimonies left day by day on the website “”, which offers a map of reported attacks.
– “I almost died” –
“It’s really, really common here. I almost died over there near the beach,” confirms Thomas Walker, an amateur cyclist in his 60s, who came bike in hand on Saturday to watch the practice riders in Wollongong engaged.
Injuries are common and the consequences can even be dramatic. In 2019, a 76-year-old cyclist died in Wollongong when he hit a pole after trying to dodge a magpie attack.
At the World Cup, which opens for a week on the south-east coast of Australia on Sunday, we are taking the issue seriously. And a racing accident is not out of the question, as Swiss runner Stefan Kung reported that one of his teammates was attacked by a magpie in training.
“When birds attack, they tend to attack people who are alone and moving fast. Unfortunately, I don’t think cyclists are being told to slow their pace,” said Paul Parland, a veterinarian at Illawarra Animal Hospital, and issued an appeal for caution on local radio station Wave FM to viewers, who were asked to go slow.
“Incidents regularly occur at one point on the circuit. It can really come as a surprise if you’re not used to it. I can imagine that the organization is aware of this. But we can’t do much anyway,” said Thomas Walker.
Over the years, local cyclists have more or less successfully developed strategies to protect themselves against these attacks, such as wearing a spiked helmet or reflective mirrors.
“Some people advise us to stick some kind of antenna on our helmet to scare away the birds. But it’s not very aerodynamic, so we won’t do it,” commented Stefan Küng in an interview on the UCI website.
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