Magpies With Bad Manners but Good Taste

Anyone who’s ever lurked here in Wintersong the past year or so knows that Hubby and I share our backyard with a bunch of mountain critters. For the most part we get along pretty well, and they pay us back for our generosity in sharing our strawberries, apricots, pears and green tomatoes by letting us observe and preserve by blogging and (sometimes) photographing their antics for our own selfish ends. To save a few coveted tomatoes for myself I resorted to putting a few Edwards tomatoes alongside the others (squirrels don’t like Edwards tomatoes), and they served me well about 80% of the time.

Usually I think of our critters the same way I think about friends. Sometimes the things that endear them to us most turn out in reverse to be the things that aggravate us the most. We just have to take the good with the bad and hope it all evens out eventually. Several weeks ago, however, we went out to sit in the new swing on the deck outside between the kitchen and bedroom, and here’s what we found:

I refer to the frayed fabric on the edges, as well as the white spot at the middle and the brown one close the upright cushions (calling cards much like those printed and engraved cards visitors of olden days might have left in the old-fashioned silver tray in the parlour to announce themselves). The evidence was overwhelming. This is the work of Magpies I said to Hubby. If you eyeball the distance from the poop to the picks, it would the right length for a large bird, 18-24 inches long.

We’ve observed several Magpie babies growing up in our back yard this year. To see these funny birds loping around the water bowls, giving no visual clue other than the clumsy behavior to distinguish them from momma or poppa Magpie, the word birdbrain is the most appropriate one that comes to mind. But things aren’t always as they seem.Researcher Helmut Prior and colleagues announced in Science Daily recently that magpies subjected to a a mark test (a mark placed on their body so that it can only be seen in a mirror)  engaged in activity that was directed towards the mark (scratching at it), suggesting that these birds recognize the image in the mirror as themselves rather than another animal. So I guess I have to reconsider my use of the word.

Up to now I’d only considered Magpies as raucous but beautiful birds prone to the thievery of shiny objects. My google search tells me they nest once a year UNLESS they’re unsuccessful the first time. Then they’ll steal whatever they need to feather new nests to successfully raise a family before it’s too late. Unfortunately, since the nests need to be fairly large, they require a lot of twigs, hair, grass, bark, rootlets or mud. Most of the spring breeders have pretty much shopped the easier markets clean, however, so the  colony in our back yard must have decided to use the stuffing from our swing cushions.

Sleuth that I am, I’ve waited for at least three weeks with camera nearby for, and now actually have, the proof I was waiting for:

There’s the culprit! I couldn’t get to the camera quickly enough to show him (through the wiremesh) doing his dirty deeds, but I was able to catch him as he tried to escape. (That would also explain the brown spot near the upright cushion in the photo above, remember?) Did I mention that Magpies are very suspicious and nervous creatures and detect the smallest of sounds that may suggest a predator?

I read a poem on The Lone Magpie Page about Magpies being the park bench drunks of the bird kingdom that hang about all day screeching at each other–and everybody else–because they have nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. (You can read the poem in its entirety here. The last two lines of the poem really caught my eye and provided just the words I needed to end this story.

Their nests must be
Boudoirs of bling.

Somehow, those two lines made me feel better about this particular Magpie after all. Hubby and I really enjoy our new swing. It’s nice that the Magpies in our yard recognize good taste when they see it. Now if we could only teach these birdbrains birds a few manners . . . .

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4 thoughts on “Magpies With Bad Manners but Good Taste

  1. Oh, I really enjoyed this. We don’t have magpies here in my yard. They’re pretty clever creatures, aren’t they?
    But I agree…a course in Manners 101 is what they need.

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