A MAGPIE STORY
Australian Magpies are not the same as the European Magpie. We have several types in Australia, some mostly white, some mostly black. Many people don't like Maggies. It could be their beady little eyes and hard pointed beaks, their protectiveness during nesting season and the aggressiveness that chases a boy on a bike, a goanna up a tree, or adults walking nearby. They dive at the head and shoulders and hit really hard.
I have been attacked, and while being struck on the back with such force was frightening, I had to admire the bravery of little creature. When they think their nests are under threat the magpies are fearless.
I love their song. I love to listen to their choir practice though the demanding screeches of their young are not as melodic. They sing in harmony, all together or in groups. They sing rounds and duets and solos.
I once lived in a house in the forest – not a forest like the three bears had, but a eucalyptus forest with an assortment of introduced trees that surrounded the house. The open veranda was a great introduction to the local wildlife. Magpies were frequent visitors and such friendly visitors, or is that pushy, that we had to keep the screen door closed to keep them out of the kitchen.
It was hard to resist throwing meat and fruit scraps out for them, especially when I saw how hardworking and patient they were with their demanding babies. The youngsters, who seem to be the same size as the group of adults who care for them, scream and squawk for food unless their beak is full. Sometimes it takes six adults - both parents, older siblings, aunties and uncles, to care for just one speckled baby. No wonder the fast food outlet bowl of cat food, on our veranda was checked out daily.
I had a very touching experience with one magpie families. This group had been nesting near our house for several years and I’m sure I could recognise some of the individual birds. They always announced their arrival, loudly ordering food scraps and treats. Often one or two birds knocked with their beaks on the kitchen door to get my attention. This day their calling was different.
From the veranda I could see six birds standing in arc on the ground below, behind a crippled bird. It was small but all black like the adult birds. The right wing stuck out at an odd angle and the right leg was injured so the bird's body twisted to one side, trying to balance. The group ignored the toast crust I threw and one by one flew away, leaving the injured one behind, with me.
I didn't know what to do. I tried phoning the people who cared for wild birds in our area but there was no answer - this was in the early days of the local WILVOS. I looked at the pathetic little bird. He looked back. When I went closer he moved away. So, he was distressed - I kept my distance.
After an hour or so he decided to move. He walked away, limping. I watched and followed as he moved under the bracken and started up a steep slope, toward the nesting trees. It was hard work for him. He pushed his way through ferns and long grass and it took him all afternoon to cover a very short distance. As it grew dark the little bird crawled into thick bladed grass and I had to leave him there. I thought about him all night.
I knew from TV documentaries that it's best not to interfere with the natural order of things. A vet once told me that touching an injured wild animal can kill it by causing extreme stress. When I was young, and we had cracker night, people put their guinea pigs inside the house under blankets so they didn't die of fright. I also knew the local goannas and carpet snakes saw injured birds and animals as easy prey. It seems there is no compassion amongst animals.
The next morning I expected to find him dead or gone but the brave little fella was still there. He refused the scraps of minced meat I offered. As the sun warmed the ground he started off again, heading up the hill to the line of trees that magpies favoured.
Again I followed at a distance.
Like a brave wounded soldier he struggled on, ignoring me unless I got too close. Finally he reached the top of the hill, and stopped, exhausted. I left water close to him and checked on him every half hour or so. He lay panting, in a bird way, occasionally lifting his head. I didn't want a goanna or the snake to find him. There was no way he get into the trees and no sign of other magpies. I got a large cardboard box and made a fence around him. I kept watch and talked to him about the trees and all the birds. At sunset he died and we buried him beside the track, under his tree.
I’ve never forgotten him.
This Magpie rhyme comes from England. Apparently seeing two Magpies together is lucky. I must have a lot of luck.
One for sorrow, Two for joy,
Three for a girl, Four for a boy,
Five for silver, Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
Eight for a wish, Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird that you won't want to miss.