During my time in Surfers Paradise, Australia, I’ve been learning to live like the locals. This became increasingly apparent during my last beach trip.
Maz, my study abroad host, startled me when she first told me about Australian magpies during a picnic at the beach.
She advised me to draw menacing eyes on the back of my helmet and to drill spikes onto it when biking. Why? Only then might I protect myself from the omnivorous, black-and-white-feathered predators that attack pedestrians and bikers during the springtime – unofficially coined “magpie season.”
Magpies seek to protect their young by employing self-defense tactics. These modern-day pterodactyls fly over pedestrians and cyclists and dive into their hair, prying it out like a famished woodpecker.
Australians are commonly attacked during magpie season. Least menacing are close attacks, or “swoops,” where the aggressor piercingly snaps its beak and pecks at its target’s face, neck, ears or eyes.
On rare occasions, a magpie will challenge a biker to an unwelcome duel. The bird will land on the ground facing a two-wheeler, honorably allot its target several milliseconds to reflect on his or her fate before darting at the victim’s head, allowing the victim little time to retaliate.
Before coming to the land Down Under, I would not have considered fearing a small bird. But I now realize that a magpie attack would disarm me, make me lose control and leave me unable to strike back. No amount of protein or iron pumping could train me to confront this menace.
I have discovered in Australia that men live not to become completely fearless, but rather, they seek to defy their greatest fears – which usually land on them when they least expect it. They are unable to wrestle these creatures and organize a fair defense. The thought of an assault constantly lingers in their minds.
They will find ways to cope or overcompensate, but will never truly overcome the trepidation that persists deep in their souls. Although magpies weaken the average man, acknowledging this ornithophobia – fear of birds – is liberating.
So am I still ready to greet Australia with open arms and a sleeveless shirt? Yes, but I might add a tricked-out helmet to my attire.