Thursday, May 23, 2002

It doesn't matter whether you live in the city or the country; come spring, all across Australia, beware the birds.

When I was growing up we lived across the road from what are now QUT Kelvin Grove sports fields. It's where I learnt to ride my bike, it's where I learnt not to be afraid of falling off my bike (when Dad cycled full-speed towards the long-jump pit and then applied the front brakes only, thus causing me to fly over the handle-bars into the sand, which wasn't so bad after all), it's where I developed my first phobia.


I tried to overcome the phobia through understanding; in time I would know the breeding cycle, how to distinguish the normal birdcalls from the agitated about-to-attack calls, how the young ones were grey and the pure black and white ones were the adults, and found out where all of the regular nesting sites around my suburb were. It was all for naught. The maggies would surprise me and the fear remained.

The fear escalated when I found out the little banes of my existence were learning too. So much for outsmarting them; they were adapting! About the time bike helmets became mandatory in Queensland (mid-late 80's I think), I started hearing reports that the winged menaces had learnt to aim for the ears. Then, when some bright spark started selling hats with eyes painted on the back (it was said that Magpies would never attack if you looked them straight in the eyes - my own experience disproves this) I heard that some Magpies were landing in front of the intended target and flying up into their faces! Spring became the most dreaded of seasons when it should've been happy-happy-joy-joy great weather time.

In time I also learnt to fear another... the Spur-winged Plover.

Quite fond of nesting in open spaces, the Plovers would bring the panic and pain once we'd made it through the trees, thankful we'd evaded the black and white airborne pain deliverer once again. Whereas Magpies would come at us one at a time, the Plovers worked in pairs. I'm sure they'd been reading military tactics because they understood the 'divide and conquer' principle perfectly.

Later, when I moved to Canberra, I thought history would repeat.

I'd moved into a house in Hackett that backed on to a nature strip. To get to the bus stop (to get to and from work daily) I had to walk down a path through a park populated by large gum trees - the Magpies favourite. My heart sank, but I took consolation from the fact that it was summer, and there was still all of autumn and winter to get through before I'd have to face my ebony and ivory mottled nemisis again. Little did I know that the other residents of the cal de sac in Hackett had made friends with the local birds (the way to a birds heart is through the stomach apparently). My relief was profound.

When I moved across the lake, I discovered that my street was the home to at least fifteen magpies. To be more precise, the strip of trees between the apartment complex driveway and the shops was the home to the group. For the first week of spring I walked a whole block to avoid them, but one day I needed to get to the shops and whatever it was I needed, I needed now. I walked, albeit quickly, past the birds on the ground, past the birds in the trees. They all watched me, I know, I felt their stare burning into the back of my head. Not one swooped. Success! I'd walked past all of them and not a single fear reaction ensued! No increase in heart rate, no profuse sweating; I'd overcome my phobia! I ran up the stairs and called home right away - it was almost as big a news story as the time I'd eaten a banana for the first time in about ten years (but that's a whole other story).

Now I sit up on my balcony watching people walking along the street eyeing the scampering magpies carefully, remembering my own reactions of not so long ago. I watch the young ones who run alongside people hoping they'll drop some crumbs of whatever it is they're munching on and throw them some crusts occasionally (don't want to make them dependent after all). I walk down my street unafraid.

But occasionally when I'm out & about a bird'll flutter past at head level, I'll hear that flapping sound and still instinctively duck too.

Posted by Dean @ 5/23/2002 08:16:00 pm

...Survey says...


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