this funny bird that attacks cyclists and could disrupt races

In the Australian city of Wollongong, the scene of the world cycling championships from this weekend, the river cassican, also called the Australian magpie, could represent an unexpected danger for the runners. At this time of year, the bird does not hesitate to attack cyclists approaching its nest.

Cyclists know several enemies: the wind, the slope, cramps… In Wollongong, at the road world championships, another threat hangs over their heads: the flute-bearing cassican, better called the Australian magpie (on the very nickname the flying orc).

Everything has just arrived from Spain, where he won the Vuelta, Remco Evenepoel is not ready to forget his first training outing in Australia. “Suddenly a bird of very respectable size approached me and kept following me. It was terrifying,” said the Belgian champion on his return. Even though he stopped an attack, he “hopes it won’t happen again”. “It scares me. But that’s how it is in Australia,” he added.

Cyclists, their preferred target

The phenomenon is indeed well known to Australians who know that in September-October, you have to be wary of the sky. We then enter the high seasonliterally the season of swooping downhills, where birds, and more particularly 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 the more they attack.

The pies can then dive on their victim and aim their powerful beaks at the head, face, neck or eyes. Sometimes they also sting “in a bomb” and hit the intruders head-on. This scenario worthy of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is far from being anecdotal and constitutes a real concern, as shown by the testimonies left day after day on the “www.magpiealert.com” site, which offers a map of reported attacks.

Cyclist admits he ‘nearly died’

“Here, it’s really very frequent. There is a place over there near the beach where I almost died”, confirms Thomas Walker, an amateur cyclist in his sixties who came to observe on Saturday, bicycle in hand. , the training of the riders engaged in Wollongong. The injuries can even be serious and the consequences dramatic. In 2019, a 76-year-old cyclist died in Wollongong when he hit a pole after trying to avoid a magpie attack.

Runners be warned, a River Cassican may attack at any time.
The runners are warned, a flute cansican can attack at any time © AFP

A partner of Stefan Küng was attacked

At the World Championships, which open Sunday for a week on the southeast coast of Australia, we take the subject seriously. And a racing incident is not impossible, as Swiss runner Stefan Kung has reported that one of his teammates was attacked by a pie in training.

“When attacking, birds tend to target people who are alone and moving fast. Unfortunately, I don’t think cyclists will be told to slow down their run,” said Paul Parland, a veterinarian at the animal hospital. of Illawarra, issuing an appeal for caution on the local radio station Wave FM to spectators, who were asked to walk slowly.

“Some people advise sticking antennae on our helmets to scare away the birds”

“At one point on the course of the race, there are regular incidents. It can be really surprising when you’re not used to it. I imagine that the organization is aware. But in any case we can’t do grand-chosen”, emphasizes Thomas Walker. Over the years, local cyclists have more or less successfully devised strategies to guard against these attacks, such as wearing a helmet with spikes or reflective mirrors. “Some people advise us to stick some kind of antennae on our helmet to scare the birds away. But it’s not very aerodynamic so we’re not going to do it”, commented Stefan Küng in an interview on the UCI website.

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