Wednesday, 19 April 2017


Corvid controversy.

That's a given if you're a fan of these amazing birds!

I can guarantee that whenever I post a photo of a Magpie (Pica pica) on social media, there are going to be polarized reactions. Some, like me, adore them. Others get hot under the collar just seeing them. Like Marmite, the Magpie knows no middle ground. Rather than click "share" with a Magpie pic, I might as well throw a tea party for a bunch of Brexiteers and Remoaners and expect balanced adult debate!

I love corvids. Magpies make my heart jump for joy.

There. I've said it. Feels as bold a statement as standing up in a room of strangers to admit I've never watched Star Wars all the way through!

"But they eat birds! Little chicks!" someone will comment, as if I didn't know.

"They destroyed all *my* Wren's eggs in the nest three years on the trot!" someone else adds, whipping up the outrage till everybody has a Magpie Murder Casefile episode to share.

My own garden's no stranger to Magpie mayhem. Round here, Wrens, Collared Doves and Long-tailed Tits flap themselves into a frenzy of alarm-calls to ward off what they rightly count as a threat to their nesting babies, as soon as the Magpie glides in all butter-wouldn't-melt from the Ash tree.

I've witnessed angry Blackbirds gang up to warn the world of potential predators, whistleblowing on Magpies and Carrion Crows. Once a mob of Blackbirds here ejected a Grey Squirrel, another visitor rather partial to eggs and nestlings, from the garden in Spring. They successfully froze the furry invader in terror on a branch by disorientating him with their relentless cacophany of alarm-calls as they gathered from nearby gardens and woodland to join in a wall of sound. Yet there seem to be as many people complaining on message boards about rowdy Blackbirds these days as about Cockerels crowing!

Make no mistake. I understand how Magpies use their sparky corvid brains to devise all sorts of devious ways to feed themselves and their own young. Including supplementing their diet with small and accessible bundles of protein like songbird chicks. So will other corvids, birds of prey and mammals. It's just that as Magpies thrive and move closer into our gardens and back yards, they have come under the scrutiny of human judgement.

Photos of Kestrels, Sparrowhawks or those silent assassins the Barn Owls in all their cuddly anthropomorphic glory don't seem to attract such vitriol as the Magpie. Superstition and lugubrious rhyme has done him no favours! Even if he turns up alone as a Billy-no-mates, he's accused of being "One for Sorrow"!

We all have our favourites. Our avian heroes and villains. That's human nature.

But Magpies have been on the naughty step for far too long, to my mind. Magpieism from the Anti-Magpie League is alive and well, so I find myself on the defensive on behalf of one of my feathered favourites.

After all, that's the nature of nature. That's survival. That's birding for you.

We don't have to look very far from home to spot the species who genuinely do lasting damage to songbird populations on this fragile planet with our wasteful, polluting stewardship of Earth! Magpies don't come close to rivalling us in destructive lifestyle choices! But that's enough controversy for one blog post!

I'll go on treasuring every close encounter I have with these particoloured jesters, loping across the lawn, using their wits to forge their future, yet still jumping back theatrically as if shocked by their own shadow.

I'll go on posting photos of them, too. So freedom of speech can prevail, differing opinions can be aired and everyone, from Magpie-sceptics to Magpie-philes like me, can enjoy the drama these birds bring into our lives!

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