Swooping magpies spark calls to protect eyes after Victorian cyclist injured

Swooping magpies spark calls to protect eyes after Victorian cyclist injured
  • PublishedSeptember 20, 2023

The Sunbury man sustained serious injury to one of his eyes when he was attacked by a magpie while cycling in Yarrawonga in November, 2021.

The attack happened on one of the few cycling trips when he had left his sunglasses at home.

“I have been attacked countless times and don’t have a fear of the birds, but I always have glasses on,” Mr Nyssen said.

“This bird turned around and went straight for the eye, did a backflip and hit me right in the eye again.

“A neighbour said I was the fifth person to be attacked.”

A magpie looks into the distance, with a serious and focused expression.
Magpies usually swoop in spring. (ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Mr Nyssen needed multiple procedures to save his sight after he suffered a detached retina, iris trauma and a cataract with instability.

He spent almost a year without sight in the damaged eye as he needed his lens removed, and waited for it to recover for further surgery to progress.

His procedures included the first time a new intraocular lens from the USA was used in Victorian surgery.

A surgeon in theatre with an eye on the screen.
New technology was used during Mr Nyssen’s surgery. (Supplied: Epworth HealthCare)

Specialist eye surgeon Elvis Ojaimi and the team at Epworth Freemasons had to seek approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration to use the lens that had a prosthetic colour-matched iris diaphragm in surgery on Mr Nyssen last year.

“This is a very, very unique prosthesis in the eye,” Dr Ojaimi said.

“What it does, it has the coloured part of the eye called the iris and, in the middle where the pupil is, there’s an artificial lens that focuses on the back of the eye.

“They’re together and I sutured them inside the eye to allow the focus.”

The technology also helped Mr Nyssen better control the amount of light coming into his eye following damage to the iris, reducing glare.

Treating magpie injuries

The eye injuries caused by the magpie aren’t unique to the Yarrawonga attack.

A close up of an eye prosthetic
Christiann Nyssen needed a prosthetic on his eye after a bird attack. (Supplied: Epworth HealthCare)

Dr Ojaimi said he expected to see similar injuries again this spring.

“Severe injuries like that, I have seen at least a couple,” he said.

“I saw quite a serious one similar to this where the beak penetrated the eye, so it went into the eye of a child who was about seven years old a few years back.”

He said not all eye injuries recovered as well as Mr Nyssen’s, whose injuries had also taken a long time to heal.

“Thankfully for him he did very well and his visual acuity was very, very good afterwards, but it doesn’t always turn out like that though.

“Some of the injuries are quite irreversible and not fixable unfortunately”.

Call to wear sunglasses

Mr Nyssen was again attacked by a magpie while cycling last week, this time sustaining a minor ear injury.

He urged cyclists to wear sunglasses to help prevent potential eye damage, particularly in spring.

“The attack was one in a million injury and it caught me by surprise, but sunglasses would have made a big difference,” he said.

“The magpie wouldn’t have had something to aim at.”

The Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action offers advice to protect against swooping birds, which often do so to protect their eggs and young.

The advice includes knowing local swooping hotspots, avoiding the area, moving quickly through the area, travelling in a group, and drawing a pair of “eyes” to attach to the back of hats and helmets.

It has also launched The Victorian Swooping Bird Map to help locate hotspots for swooping.

All Victorian native wildlife is protected by law, and it is illegal to harass or harm native birds and other wildlife without authorisation.


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