Magpies abound in summer. The young have fledged and they're everywhere. Some people are of the opinion that they are far too numerous, far too noisy and are generally a nuisance.
Their habit of inundating a feeding station, chasing off more desirable song birds, eating everything in sight and leaving behind copious amounts of white-wash does not endear them to the average bird feeder.
While these concerns are valid ones imagine, for a moment, that you have never seen this bird before. Take another look at this bird that might be described as exotic by a first time observer.
Flying across our parks and backyards, with its distinctive silhouette, the Black-billed Magpie is truly a spectacular sight. By observing the bird on the ground or on its favorite perch it is possible to see its colorful plumage. The Magpie is not, as many people believe, a black and white bird. The wing and tail feathers have many colors in them most notably a bluish-green especially evident in the young, newly fledged birds. These feathers have an iridescent sheen which produces brilliant flashes of blue, green and pink.
The Magpie is a highly social species well tolerant of human presence even during the breeding season. Their discordant and often irritating vocalizations can hardly be called musical but they do have an amazing talent for imitating a variety of sounds including the human voice.
Magpies lay six to nine greenish-gray eggs in a rather messy home of sticks and twigs lined with mud and rootlets. This same nest may be used year after year.
While generally regarded as a nuisance bird the Magpie does provide some useful services. Their taste for carrion helps keep the roads clean of small animals that have been hit by cars. They also enjoy ticks, grasshoppers, small rodents and weevils.
At feeders they will eat almost anything offered including bread,
suet, raisins, peanuts and table scraps. Keeping a separate, low
table feeder stocked with these items in an area well away from other
feeders can help lessen their impact on the other smaller songbirds
in your yard. The other alternative is to avoid putting out anything
that Magpies will eat, and stick to sunflower seeds and finch mixes
served only in hanging feeders.
In Germany the number of birds, according to tradition, indicated forthcoming events. One is viewed as unlucky; two brings merriment or marriage; three is a successful journey; four is good news and five indicates you should expect company.
In Poitou there still lingers a trace of pie-worship; viz. a bunch of heath and laurel is tied to the top of a high tree in honour of the magpie, because her chatter warns the people of the wolf's approach: 'porter la crêpe (pancake) a la pie,' Mém. des antiq. 8, 451.
In the Norse tradition Magpie is associated with Skadi, because of the similarity of the name. Under Christianity the same shift of superstition from lucky to unlucky occurred in Norse countries as across the rest of Europe. In old Norse mythology, Skadi (the daughter of a giant) was a priestess of the magpie clan. The black and white markings of the magpie were seen to represents sexual union, as well as male and female energies kept in balance. Later on in time, Scandinavians thought that magpies were sorcerers flying to unholy gatherings, and yet the nesting magpie was once considered a sign of luck in those countries.
The Magpie features in a Rossini opera, The Thieving Magpie, or La gazza ladra. This opera tells the story of a pet magpie that steals shiny objects, resulting in an innocent servant almost being sent to the gallows after being accused of the magpie's crimes. The story echoes the common belief that magpies steal and hide shiny objects. In some countries it is thought to chatter in a way that sounds like human speech. For example, in Italy it is known as gazza, and has given its name to gazetta, the Italian for newspaper.
It was sacred to Bacchus, the God of wine, so it became associated with intoxication.
An old English tradition notes that if one magpie flies by, you should take your hat off and bow repeating this line : "Morning/Afternoon Mr Magpie. How's Mrs Magpie and all the little Magpies?" This will help assure your good luck throughout the day.
One seen flying or croaking around a house or sitting alone symbolises that misfortune is present. Should a flock of magpies suddenly abandon a nesting area then, like the crow and rook, death is present and hard times are ahead. To avoid bad luck it is said that taking your hat off to the passing birds will act as protection against darker forces. Perhaps these associations stem from the fact that it was the only bird that would not enter the Ark preferring to stay outside. It is one of the very birds that also has black and white plumage, a combination of the sacred or holy colour (white) and of evil (black).
To have one perch on your roof though is supposed to indicate that the house will never fall down. According to tradition it would be best to rearrange a journey if you see just one. If one is seen on the way to church it signifies that death is present, hence some believe that it is best to cross yourself to ward off evil or negative energies whilst saying 'Devil, Devil, I defy thee'.
In Somerset, England it was once thought that to carry an onion at all times would provide protection against magpies.
In Scotland the magpie was once believed to carry a drop of the Devil's blood under its tongue which perhaps stems from another belief that the magpie was the only bird not to wear full mourning at the Crucifixion.
"One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold and seven for a secret never to be told."
Legend also has it that when a magpie's mate dies it summons an assembly of other magpies at which the dead bird is honoured before a new mate is selected.
In Celtic lore the bird was sacred to 'MAGOG.'
The magpie is seen in a negative, aggressive light. This may be because the Australian Magpie is of the Shrike (an aggressive hunter) family rather than the Crow family.
Australian Magpie info... http://home.mira.net/~areadman/magpie.htm
In general in Native American myth the Magpie is seen as the ally and helper of humans. They feature in legends from the Navaho, Blackfoot and Cheyenne
In the Cypriot folklore there is a story, similar to one of Aesop's fables, referring to the magpies (katsikorwva or katsikoutala in the Cypriot dialect) gawky steps.
There was a magpie who saw that the pigeons in the yard of a house at the end of the village were well fed and well looked after by their owner, while she was pecking donkeys' wounds all day long. So the thought of changing her colour to look like a pigeon in order to eat well with them. She went into a tub full of plaster and became snow white and mingled with the pigeons. She had a good time for two or three days until the plaster peeled off and the pigeons realized who she was. They kicked her and threw her off the wall and she broke her legs and could not walk straight. Ever since, she has been limping and has become the laughing stock of people and birds.
In both Chinese and Korean myths the Magpie Bridge joins the 3 bright stars of Aquila in the night sky, called the Cowherd, to Lyra, or the Spinning Damsel, across the river that is the Milky Way. This happens on the 7th night of the 7th moon.
The Magpie is a strong healer for relationships, particularly those emotional hurts. It is the magpie's faithfulness to their partners and families which you can invoke to send a message to the Gods.
The Chinese traditionally see the magpie as a bird of good fortune, except if you kill one when misfortune will arrive. Magpie is a symbol of happiness in Chinese culture.
The singing of a magpie foretells happiness and good luck. That's why it is called 'Happy Magpie' by Chinese people. The Manchu minority in Northeast China even regards magpies as sacred birds. . Under the Manchu dynasty it also represented imperial rule. Legends concerning magpies are found in the historical records about Manchu. (By Ye Qinfa, China Online)
Koreans believed that magpies delivered good news and invited good people.The most famous painting related to a magpie is the one with striped tiger (ggach'i wha horangi minhwa): the magpie is happily chirping to a tiger. The magpie represented good news and the tiger symbolised good luck, since its pronunciation in Chinese sounds similar to good luck (bok).Another interpretation states that the magpie is the village spirit that announces good omens, and the tiger is the servant that does his bidding; another that the tiger is a yangban (aristocrat) and the magpie is the representative of the common people, scolding him for his insensitivity to their plight.
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