My mum loves to play an English band called ‘The Unthanks’ in the car and at home, my favourite song by them is a wonderful folk song called ‘Magpie’. Of course it is, it’s about a bird! I think it’s wonderful to hear someone singing about this beautiful bird. I know you might think I’m bonkers, a magpie, beautiful? Well, I think so. Its bright blue flashes of feather, its imposing size, striking pose and its cackling call all entrance me. They evoke my love of storytelling, history and superstitions (they are very interesting). No other bird stirs up opinion more than the magpie and yesterday and today, I did a little research to share on todays blogpost.
The magpie (Pica pica) belong to the family of Corvidae, which include crows, ravens, jackdaws and jays. They are some of the most intelligent animals in the world. They are opportunist predators and are omnivores, eating pretty much everything in springtime (to feed their young) and seeds (from our garden anyway) and ground invertebrates. They do raid nests of songbird chicks and eggs during the season and this means that magpies are often seen in a negative light. However, it is general consensus among researchers that magpies have no negative effect on numbers, you can probably blame cats more than our black and white avian friends . They mate for life and they stay pretty much in the same place (within 10k) all their lives.
Magpies are steeped in history and superstition and the song which I mentioned incorporates the poem ‘One for sorrow. Two for joy…..’ Some people may tip their hat to a magpie, wish him/her good morning and in Elizabethan times chant ‘devil, devil, I defy thee’ (also in the Magpie song). I can’t think of any other bird we do this for, if you know, please share the stories with me! People do this of course to avoid the bad luck that magpies are said to bring, particularly in singular form. When we see a group of magpies, we inwardly sigh with relief and maybe if you’re expecting a baby, you might put some value on the amount you see, ‘three for a girl, four for a boy’. I found that some cultures actually view the magpie in an opposite light. In China and South Korea, they are said to bring good luck, happiness and good fortune. Also, when I was researching, I found an article about an animal behaviourist called Dr Bekoff from The University of Colorado witnessed ‘funeral’ behaviour in magpies! He observed four birds, lovingly lay grass beside the corpse of a dead magpie, gently peck their lifeless body and almost look as if they were standing in vigil. Astonishing behaviour from a bird which is viewed with distrust and annoyance.
We have a pair of magpies who visit our garden every day, eat seed from the ground and grace us with their call and their presence. This bird, so present in culture and literature is a welcome guest and we always stop to watch their beauty in the sunlight or brightening up a dull dismal, rainy day. Thank you Magpie!
Below is a video of The Unthanks singing ‘Magpie’. I hope you enjoy it and that you enjoyed reading a little about this beautiful bird. If you know other facts or information about magpies, I’d love to know.