The State of the Magpies

Since Winged Hearts is just starting out from a blank slate right now, I thought it might be helpful to try to 'put you in the picture' with our various bird friendships as they stand at the present time. Our chief friends are of course our magpies, along with their main friends, who tend to come down and eat alongside them. The 'core group' is the magpies, the two butcherbird species (pied and grey-backed), and the noisy miners, who we call the minnies for short (although most people call them mickey birds). Then there are the currawongs, but being migratory, they come and go at various times. There always seem to be some currawongs nearby, but not all of them know us equally well.

Our friendship started, of course with Maggie, who became friends with our two dogs, who have now passed on. We really had no choice but to fall in love with Maggie. The day after Benny died, Maggie landed on the clothes line outside the window and looked in at me, and gave a sharp, terrible cry of grief. He was our only connection with our fellows, so we felt we had to adopt him. He was then only a scrawny 'teenager' (teens of months), and now he has become a powerful magpie king. And he got there by a remarkable series of choices, of what I can only consider to be a highly ethical kind. He didn't try to fight or displace other birds, instead he gave - food, territory, protection, whatever - and slowly acquired lots of credits with the other birds. He made mutually profitable deals and gained a huge territory. But I'll go into how that happened another time.

So now, we have Maggie and his queen, Vicky. There is his three-year-old daughter Sophie. His two-year-old daughter Sparky has just moved out from home a few months ago, and there is his one-year-old, Wendy. We have a telescope set up inside our house, as Vicky considerately built her nest with a direct view in. There is a quiet, but keen and happy-looking, bub in the nest, who is likely to come out any day now.

However, we recently had a tragedy in the family. Sophie, to our surprise, built a nest soon after Vicky, and she had two bubs in there, and she was happily and enthusiastically feeding them for some weeks. (Wendy and Maggie helped her.) We don't know whether she was a single mum or whether magpies get up to things humans aren't supposed to get up to! Then, about a week ago, there was a day of excessively strong wind, and the next morning I found that her nest had been completely blown away and her bubs were lying dead below where the nest had been. Poor Sophie has been quiet and sad ever since. Even Vicky has been subdued, although she is naturally very pleased that her own bub is doing so well. What she has stopped doing, though, is showing off. Normally each year she poses alongside her nest to show us her baby, but this year she just sits quietly with us when we go to visit her tree.

We have another magpie who visits us often, but to explain what he is doing will take a while, so I'll leave that, as well as the other birds, for next time.


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