Well, it’s definitely Spring—the girls and I have just been ‘swooped’ by our first cranky magpie . . .
For the average Australian that statement needs no further explanation. Australia—Land of deadly snakes, humungous spiders, man-eating sharks . . . and homicidal magpies. September and October is swooping season for the native magpie. This black-and-white bird with the spooky red eyes can become highly aggressive during the nesting season, attacking anything it feels poses a threat to its chicks. The fact that anything that isn’t another magpie is usually blissfully unaware there are even any chicks in the area is obviously totally irrelevant to the average man-of-the-house -magpie . . .
Signs are already appearing around the place warning people of aggressive birds and I daresay it won’t be long before we also start to see people parading about wearing ice cream containers on their heads, bike helmets with long wavy plastic antennae sticking out of them, or hats with eyes drawn on the back . . . (Spoiler alert . . . )
Magpies belong to the family Corvidae, which also includes ravens, crows, jackdaws, and jays. They display a range of intelligent behaviors that not only surpass that of other birds, but most mammals as well. They mate for life, can live up to 20 years in the wild (which I guess is why the ‘teenagers’ stay goofy for so long), form close knit communities and they have the ability to solve complex problems (like how to still get at you in spite of the fact you are wearing a silly hat, a mask, or are hiding under an umbrella!)
Magpies and I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship. I love them because they are inquisitive and hilarious (especially when still babies), they sound fabulous when they come and sing to you, and they are wicked smart. And magpies remember. That much is clear. They remember people who have been nice to them—and they also remember those who haven’t . . .
You may recall I wrote once about my little magpie family who regularly came tap-tap-tapping at my office door to get their daily treat. Occasionally, if I saw them before they saw me, I could go outside and call them and Mum and Dad would immediately come gliding gracefully down and the two babies would waddle on their fat little legs towards me, squarking and gurgling with their mouths agape. They would all four sit happily at my feet as I fed them their treats. Those babies have already moved on but I fully expect Mum and Dad to be back at my office door when their next batch of babies arrives. (Sally = Food)
But then there was that other incident which happened, not at the office, but in my front garden—the attempted murder of Little Bird. There is no doubt in my mind that those two magpie youngsters would have killed that little injured bird without a moment’s thought if I had not got in their way. They were mean and vicious and it took all my courage (and one of my shoes) to face them down and send them screeching on their way. I can still remember the look one of them gave me as I made off with his prize. That ‘I’m-gonna-get-you-for-this . . . ‘ kind of look. (Sally = Food-thief and shoe-wielding lunatic . . . )
Remembering that look got me thinking—perhaps the magpie that attacked us today was that same youngster I chased so unceremoniously from my garden and he is now all grown up and bent on revenge! Perhaps he has never met his magpie relatives who live near my office and so they haven’t had the chance to tell him that I really am quite a nice person (‘No—you must be wrong. Sally’s lovely—and she feeds us. You must have just caught her on a bad day . . . ‘ )
Worse still, perhaps he will never meet them and so never change his mind about me and continue to see me only as a dangerous shoe-tossing mad woman for the next twenty years!!
Gulp. Suddenly some of those silly head-gear options aren’t looking quite so ridiculous . . .