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Animals – cycling safety tips

Cyclists should be aware of how to ride safely with and around animals, to avoid possible danger.

Magpies

Be aware of magpie attacks during spring. Being aware of the dangers and how to respond can help you avoid most problems.

Why magpies attack

An image of a magpie attack on a cyclist The magpie nesting season is from early August to late November in Queensland. During this time, male magpies will defend their territory.

Most magpies defend against real predators (such as cats and larger birds) but about eight per cent attack cyclists and pedestrians. Research reveals most of this eight per cent have suffered a bad experience with humans, such as someone interfering with the nest or throwing rocks.

 

How magpies attack

Note:

  • Magpies tend to swoop from behind, often from the direction of the sun, so an approaching shadow can be a warning.
  • They usually sound a specific and recognisable squawk as they attack and some also clack their beak.
  • Many make warning swoops and deliberately miss while some will make contact.
  • Birds that make contact usually target the head but learn not to attack helmets so they perform a side swoop attacking ears, cheeks and even eyes.
An image of an Australian magpie

Response

Remember:

  • In an actual attack, dismount to avoid danger from traffic or from a fall – more people are hurt falling from their bike during a magpie attack than by the bird itself.
  • Once you have dismounted, look the bird directly in the eye – magpies usually won't attack when you are watching them.
  • Other strategies can be to wave your arm above your head and shout to confuse and warn the magpie off.
  • To avoid attack in the first place, an orange bike flag on a long stick can warn a magpie off. Painting eyes on your helmet is not very effective as magpies have strong eyesight and can learn the difference between painted and real eyes.

Magpies have a fairly small territory so it is usually possible to travel an alternative route during the swooping season. The magpie alert website records recent magpie attacks and may assist in planning an alternative route to avoid swooping magpies. The site also lets you report magpie attacks so other people can be aware of swooping magpies. 

Dogs

Most dogs are friendly animals that people have for companionship and fun. Some dogs however, threaten cyclists. Knowing a few simple techniques can help you cope with most dangers.

Why dogs attack

A dog behaves aggressively when it is usually defending its owner or its territory. Many dogs are not familiar with cyclists so they perceive a cyclist as a fast-moving and potentially dangerous creature – but you can be seen as more friendly by dismounting.

Response

The best way to act depends on the situation, but some suggestions are:

  • If the owner is nearby, politely ask him or her to call off the dog.
  • Call to the dog in a sharp voice, such as 'stop!' or 'no!', and sound commanding, not aggressive or frightened.
  • Assume a non-threatening position and do not look the dog in the eye.
  • By getting off the bike you will seem less of a threat and be able to hold the bike between you and the dog.
  • Don't be cruel to the dog – it is acting out of instinct.

If you are frequently bailed up by the same dog on one of your cycling routes, you can:

  • contact the owner and request he or she restrain the dog
  • take a different route
  • contact the local council.
Last updated
24 August 2017