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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Encore Post; Magpies

Originally published October 6, 2011

It's spring here in Australia and that's 'Magpie season'. That means that in nests around the nation there are baby magpies making their little gaspy type  'I'm hungry' screeching noises. Unfortunately 'Magpie season' can also mean that people  run the risk of being 'swooped on' by protective magpie parent birds if it's felt that the humans are too close to the nests. Where I used to live, it was best not to walk in the park during September and at one school where I taught, there was a swooping magpie near one of the demountable blocks at the back of the campus. During breaks, students would have to wear hats and walk quickly to the playground. If they needed to go to the toilet in school time we sent them in pairs with an umbrella raised. 

There is a theory as to why only some magpies swoop.  Some magpies do make contact which hurts and in some cases where an eye is involved, people can lose the sight in that eye. It's believed that if a magpie has been ill-treated/teased it remembers and attacks similar looking people in the years to come. Boys on bikes are often attacked. Where I live now I haven't heard any complaints about swooping magpies.

I have been swooped by a magpie but I still love them. They are intelligent, they are good parents and their singing is so joyous. An Australian poet, Judith Wright, wrote a poem dedicated to Magpies. It is no surprise then that it's a favourite of mine. I introduced it to hundreds of my students over the years. (I've put the poem at the end of the post)

We have magpies living around ours and our neighbours' yards and each year we watch them raise the babies. The babies are brown and gradually they become black and white in their second year. When I dig over a garden bed, the magpies come and pick out tasty morsels, especially those wretched curl grubs. The babies in the nest at the moment are being fed grubs from our grass clippings' heap and the parent bird lets me walk past without flying away. I'm looking forward to when the little ones will come down and forage with their parents but that won't be for a while.

The magpies, the scrub turkey and the ibis all like to pick through this heap!

 Magpies by Judith Wright
Along the road the magpies walk
with hands in pockets, left and right.
They tilt their heads, and stroll and talk.
In their well-fitted black and white.

They look like certain gentlemen
who seem most nonchalant and wise
until their meal is served — and then
what clashing beaks, what greedy eyes!

But not one man that I have heard
throws back his head in such a song
of grace and praise — no man nor bird.
Their greed is brief; their joy is long.
For each is born with such a throat
as thanks his God with every note.


Chookyblue...... said...

love my maggies and thankfully the ones around here don't swoop neighbours have a terrible one and have not seen it this year but it was replaced by a very cranky butcher bird.....I never knew butcher birds swooped...........

Jeanette Ann O'Donnell said...

I think they are beautiful birds,but yes I always am aware of their swooping and head pecking. We have a pair of Murray Magpies who come into the garden to drink and bathe every day. I love to watch them. x

Kylie said...

My daughter was swooped the other day, but its a small price to pay for these gorgeous birds!

Janice said...

The European magpie looks slightly different....still recognisably the same species....but plumper and a more white I think. They are not so loved in Yorkshire, and are blamed for driving away the smaller song birds. Do you have the nursery rhyme about magpies...." One for sorrow, two for joy, ending with something about a secret never to be told ?