The birds: When magpies attack

The first day of spring is meant to signify a time of rebirth and renewal.

It marks the time of year when the days start getting longer, things start getting warmer and flowers begin to bloom.

It’s meant to be a time of joy.

It wasn’t meant to be the day where I retreated home, bloody and bruised with a broken arm and a nasty gash in my head at 9am.

But, given 1 September is also the most important day of the year for magpies, that’s exactly what happened.

In 2009 I was living in Churchill and like many young people I loved to cycle.

I would ride to class at what was then Monash University, I would ride around the Hazelwood Pondage and I would ride to visit my friends.

Any opportunity to leave the car at home, get some fresh air and squeeze in some exercise was to be relished – no matter the conditions.

After a cold – and at times wet – winter, I couldn’t have been happier when I woke up that day to be greeted by warm, sunny weather.

The decision to ride to class that day was an easy one.

From my Dunbar Grove home, I would ride along Canterbury Way until it met Monash Way, where I would leave the road and follow a concrete path downhill to where it connected with vacant land in Curringa Court.

I would then ride through Glendonald Estate, before taking Northways Road to the university.

On that particular day I didn’t get very far.

I was blazing down the path that connected Monash Way and Curringa Court, basking in the sunlight when I heard a whooshing sound go by my head.

It had crossed my mind that there could be magpies about, but I thought they might take a day to stop and enjoy the weather like the rest of us.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

With a thick BMX helmet strapped to my skull, my head was as armoured as a Sherman tank.

Despite this, as the magpie continued to swoop, I attempted to summon my inner-Lance Armstrong and get out of there as quick as possible.

It dawned on me a few seconds later that I didn’t have the speed or courage-under-fire of a professional athlete and I decided to take a more offensive approach to my black and white problem.

I don’t advocate trying to take on magpies for two reasons – firstly, they’re protected and secondly, they’re cunning devils who will triumph more often than not.

And so it was to be with me.

As I was heading down the path, I turned around in a vain attempt to try and punch the magpie as it made its next path.

If the clich going through my mind was ‘offence is the best of form of defence’, it should have been ‘don’t take your eyes off the ball’.

As I waited for my feathery pursuer with fist clenched I felt my bike begin to give way from under me.

Not watching where I was going, my front wheel had hit a rock – sending it turning 90 degrees and throwing me head-first up and over the handlebars.

On the way down I struck my head and arm – receiving a nice gash in my left temple in the process.

The magpie, its eggs now safe, perched itself atop the solitary tree located in the field.

From where I laid on the path, it looked like it had sat there to gloat over the body of its fallen prey.

With blood seeping out of my temple, I took a minute to compose myself and think of an exit plan. My arm was obviously broken and useless, but I would eventually have to retreat.

There would be no escaping on my bike and the magpie was certain to continue swooping as I left.

Eventually, I got up, grabbed my bike and tried to quickly scurry home with the magpie following me much of the way.

Several cars drove past as I made my way home, but I assume the sight of the blood then covering the left-side of my face was too much for them and nobody stopped to offer assistance.

Eventually I went to hospital, where my head was stitched up and the break in my arm confirmed.

I also developed a black eye from the encounter and the proximity of the stitches meant I couldn’t wash my hair – leaving me no option but to shave most of it off.

That magpie took my dignity, my hair and left me unable to change my t-shirt without assistance for the first couple of weeks.

To this day, I have a scar on my left temple to remind me of the encounter.

But there’s no bitterness on my part because, let’s face it, it was my own stupidity that sent me crashing down that day.

Let’s remember, spring is a time of joy for everyone – humans and magpies alike.

And with a little vigilance we can all enjoy it.