By Tui Benjamin
An Australian cyclist who filmed himself being attacked by a crazed magpie 10 times in 20 seconds believes the bird has pursued a three-year vendetta against him.
Music teacher Leigh Owens was cycling in his hometown of Wonthaggi, Victoria, earlier this month when the aggressive animal began repeatedly dive-bombing his head and clawing his helmet.
And Leigh, 55, claims his feud with the feathered friend has lasted three years – with the territorial bird attacking him dozens of times each year during its mating season.
Magpie swooping season occurs each spring in Australia, during which the country’s hostile male magpies are known to attack people, and particularly cyclists, as they defend their eggs and nests.
Leigh said: “I ride that route quite regularly with friends and we all know this particular magpie is there.
I see him every year at the same time and at the same place – he waits for us, usually in a tree.
“I’ve had run-ins with him dozens of times over the years – over the last couple of years he’s regularly swooped me. He does seem to have a bit of a vendetta.
“He’s long standing now, I call him ‘my little friend’. There’s definitely a rivalry but this is the first time I’ve ever managed to film him.
“He seems to know when I have a camera, so this time before he came I pressed record on my phone and held it in front of me as I knew he would be there.
“On this occasion he tried to swoop me about 10 times just as I was filming – he was very persistent.
“Sometimes I’ll go past and he’ll be there but he just watches and won’t swoop, which can actually be a little bit disappointing. Other times he’s really aggressive.”
Leigh, who filmed the video several weeks ago in early October, was riding a local rail trail alone at about midday when the attack occurred.
He is certain the magpie which has been swooping him repeatedly over the years is the same bird and believes the animal is male.
Swooping season occurs during the birds’ mating season of late August to late October and is believed to be caused by male birds becoming extra defensive of their eggs and young.
This year the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne reported a huge rise in the number of magpie-related injuries treated than in previous years.
Government advise warns Australians to avoid magpie hotspots, protect their heads and ears with sunglasses and hats and stay calm if swooped because panicking or running can provoke further attacks.
Leigh added: “Unfortunately the area he waits is near where you have to cross over a road and slow down to watch out for traffic so you can’t just put your head down and fly along to get past him.
“He really does have the perfect spot to catch people – you just can’t avoid him. Usually if we’re in a group it will be the last one of the group who gets swooped.
“While I was filming I wasn’t too worried about him as I had a helmet on, but a few times you can hear his talons bang on the helmet as they make contact and I could hear his wings flapping as he came behind me.
“I’m quite used to him now but if you ever get caught out by one you’re not expecting and they come up behind you it can give you a real fright. It’s like you’re being stalked.
“He is pretty predictable though, and as soon as you get out of his territory he stops every time. He has his own little territory, and he won’t go past it.
“A lot of cyclists go around with cable ties attached to their helmets at this time of year and there have been stories of kids having to have stitches in their heads, but it’s not put me off cycling in that area.”