The idea that a magpie won't swoop a cyclist who has cable ties in their helmet has become popular, but do they work?
The short answer: highly unlikely. You might as well write a sign on your helmet asking magpies to stay away, or threaten them with legal action.
It's reminiscent of when householders would put plastic bottles of water on their lawn in the belief that it would deter dogs from doing their business.
If we look at it from the bird's point of view, they might say "That cyclist has cable ties sticking out of their helmet, I had totally better not swoop".
Unless you can make an impenetrable barrier - which would be difficult - the birds will simply attack from another angle.
However, since we at Fuzzy Logic endorse the rigorous use of evidence, we should eat our own scientific dog food.
The fact that someone rides from A to B and is, or is not swooped, is merely anecdote and does not constitute proof.
To follow the scientific method, we need to control the variables. That would mean testing the magpie's behaviour with a range of options, with and without the cable ties, and so on.
The only example we know of where this was done was by some playful people at the CSIRO in Canberra. If you search online for "csiro you make me wanna-swoop", you'll see a video where they tried this.
The result? The cable ties made no difference and, oddly enough, the magpie ignored the cyclist without a helmet.
While they make no claims to this being scientific, it's a good fun way to illustrate the point.
They were testing a single cyclist on a single day, with the same magpie. It could be that by the time they got to the no-helmet test, the bird became bored, or decided it was better to feed its chicks instead.
Magpies are intelligent creatures and, while it's a mistake to believe they think like humans, we can imagine all sorts of reasons why they might choose to swoop.
To give this question real credibility, we need to apply statistics to a much larger sample size.
If the results are to be meaningful, the data collected needs to be consistent. For example, how many cable ties are in the person's helmet? Are they arranged in a similar manner?
There are many possible confounding factors, such as whether the cyclist is solo or in a group and the time of day. It can be tricky because maybe there's an unexpected factor that nobody's thought of.
We are not aware of any studies that tackle this profound topic in this way. If you do know of any, please contact us.
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