I’m not a great fan of Magpies, I think I may have mentioned this before, but I do respect them. My relationship with them is long-term even though magpies, to my mind at least, are bleak creatures. Crows may be bigger and more complicatedly carrion, but magpies are everywhere and undaunted by terrain, habitat, or thundering juggernaughts. And of course, as everyone knows, they must be saluted when seen singly no matter what the circumstance.
The farmer who had the field where we used to keep
Chester didn’t salute
them. He really hated magpies and used to trap them in baited cages. Sometimes
he’d catch three of four in a morning and dispatch them in the afternoon with
his tractor’s wheels. He said he did it because the magpies killed young birds
in their nest, which of course they do, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for
them. It’s their nature, they can’t help it and I felt uncomfortable with the
level of his crushing cruelty.
They are a bird full of contradiction, regarded as ill omens in most people’s minds. They may look black and white but if you manage to get close up to one they have feathers that shimmer like petrol in a puddle on a winter’s day. Their croak is harsh and brittle even though they look like they should sing with an up and down movement of the tail, like a wind-up bird in a musical box. They should be graceful; but there’s nothing graceful about the way they tear at a chunk of roadkill be the side of the road, arrogantly standing ground until the very last minute before flying away.
Despite all of this, they fascinate me and that is why when I saw nine on a telephone wire last weekend I took note to write about it here. A group of magpies is called a tiding, a gulp, a charm, a tittering, a parliament - I quite like a charm. A charm of nine magpies, of course it’s nine for a kiss in the nursery rhyme, although in the late 1700’s seeing nine magpies was associated with a trip to hell. So, a kiss or a trip to hell? Hard to choose really and one can lead to the other I seem to remember.
Anyway, after I saw the magpies I took a walk to where they were sitting and underneath the wire I found a few feathers and took them home as a charm. I hope that they don’t bring me bad luck.