About ten years ago, I was an eBay addict – when I opened one of my impulse buys I made myself jump out of my skin… it was a taxidermied magpie. Perhaps because of the song* – I ended up buying two.
As I write this I wonder if I have grown in some way since, as although the first still peers down at me from the top of the bookshelf, the other I gave to charity – mainly because its tail feathers had come loose and we tired of the screams from guests noticing it in the bathroom…
This Blog is part of the DIVERSIFLY project: For more details on the project go here
*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 a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth
Thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.
I used to walk to work, past a school-ground that always sported several Magpies. They hop most athletically. They might have won the triple jump on Sports Day, if the Grown Ups hadn’t shooed them away. It was during those daily pass-bys that I noticed that magpies arent just black and white, but have a wonderful iridescence to them. In the past 50 years or more they have moved very successfully into Britain’s towns and cities, so my seeing them so easily was not unusual.
Although people now say they don’t steal glittery things, they do rob other birds’ nests and so the bullying bold reputation is justified, as long as we remember to point the judgement stick at ourselves sometime. I have never seen it but apparently late winter/ early spring – although they are commonly seen in ones and twos – they will come together in a group of 100 or more in, what my Reader’s Digest book on birds describes as, a ceremonial gathering, where they chatter, jump about in branches and chase each other. Sound like a Saturday night in your town centre? It also says their courtship displays are complicated and little understood – male birds have been seen hovering a foot or so above their mates. I’d love to know how humans would be written up in a Reader’s Digest book of mammals…
A few years ago David Calcutt and I published a pamphlet called Road Kill. I so enjoyed working with him – here are our two poems (with permissions, published by Fair Acre Press and available here :))
Road Kill – David Calcutt
A magpie has taken a starling chick
Across the road in front of the flats
One that fell struggling to make its first flight.
Now the rest of the gang have come down from the roof
A screaming mob, harrying the magpie
Darting in and out again from walls and fencetops
Scattergun screeches that rip through the air.
It doesn’t put the magpie off
It’s a heavy-shouldered thug, putting the boot in
And it goes on doing it
Ramming down with its beak
Trying to kill the chick, but it’s still alive
Fluttering its wings, mouth gaping.
Such a commotion!
The morning’s being wrenched inside out
Sliced open and eviscerated by those cries
And the tangled mass of noise and violence
Scattered across the glistening street.
And now the magpie is moving from foot to foot
Head pushed down and forward over its prey
Swaying, hypnotic – stamp, hop – stamp, hop –
Shiva’s life-and-death dance
Turning the world under his heels
As the prayer-wheel hums in his body.
Then stab again, stab, and stab
A relentless hammering
And the screaming won’t stop it, the rage
The flapping riot of indignation won’t stop it.
This is the way things are.
Stand at the window, let the glass hold your gaze.
This is the staring face behind the mask of beauty
And this is the mask of beauty.
Pica pica – Nadia Kingsley
They say magpie is cursed
for it wouldn’t sing a lullaby
to the crucified Jesus.
They say magpie’s a bird of ill omen
for it wouldn’t enter two by two.
Stood sentry on the ark’s roof.
Killer of songbirds!
Wedding ring snatcher!
Harbinger of the Devil!
I thought it was black and white too
then I looked closer –
saw iridescence of green and blue.
I heard it chacker chacker
in large flocks in Spring
yet use soft tones when courting.
Killer of pests!
Sower of seed!
Watch it choose select pieces
while judging car’s speed
then confidently hop aside.
Watch it assess
with tipped head and bright eye,
or hear it socialise.
See it peer deep into a mirror,
recognise its own reflection but
not be frightened by what it sees there.
Here are some images I have found online:
And here are a few links with some more information :
RSPB on the Magpie
BBC Nature on Magpies
This Blog is part of a series of Blogs that are part of the Fair Acre Press project – DIVERSIFLY: everyday encounters with the birds of Britain’s towns and cities. For more details on the project go here