Sunday, 18 October 2015

You Stole My Heart But I Love You Anyway

So bloggers, I've been out of circulation for a while now with a persistent illness and that pesky uni work I keep having to do.... so apologies for my long absence and hopefully I can come back with a bang, at least until my next (and final) postgrad subject starts in November.

This will be the first in a likely long series on our backyard avian friends; anyone who has been following my public Facebook posts will see that every day of the week our front yard gives any bird sanctuary a run for its money.

Today I'm focusing on the humble magpie, scientifically known as Cracticus tibicen and probably secretly my favourite backyard bird. Magpies are neither very pretty nor do they have a delightful song, but what they lack in beauty they more than make up for in personality and intelligence. Males and females are identical except for the female magpie having a grey-shaded neck and tail. 

The juveniles have more of a scruffy grey-brown mix in their colouring and are usually identifiable by behaviours and a shriller call. Magpies can live for around 20 years and are highly territorial, remaining in the same area all of their lives. They have a poor reputation as bad-tempered and aggressive BBQ thieves, and are the much-derided ruler of many a suburban Aussie backyard.
The original angry bird
In Australia, we don't need Angry Bird apps. We have the live-action original. Spring and the magpie breeding season presents a big problem for non-magpie lovers in suburbia. The adults will attack and swoop anyone or anything, pets and other birds included, who happen to come near their nests. This is one of the great man vs. beast problems in Australia; what to do about the magpie who might peck your eye out on the way to the shops for a Chico Roll. I can see you smirking but let me tell you a magpie attack is terrifying to behold or be in for that matter. Scratches are common but serious injuries do happen; about a dozen people lose an eye each year to magpie attacks. In spring it is common to see cyclists with dozens of cable ties sprouting out of their helmets and joggers/walkers in parks with fly-swats and cut-out faces stuck to the back of their hats in vain attempts to thwart the evil Magpie Demon. Alas, none of this is effective, and neither is relocating the birds, a reprehensible practice only ensuring the probable death of that bird and its offspring at home in the nest. 
Waiting to swoop and kill! No, actually waiting for me to feed her.
We have three resident magpies in our yard and I must confess, they are more than friends. Not once ever in the time we have lived here have we been swooped or threatened in any way by these birds. The secret? We feed them. Daily we present an offering that appears to be acceptable in their sight. Actually more than once a day but that is nitpicking. Magpies can recognise individual people and learn to know who presents a threat and who doesn't, and what humans live in a certain house and should be there or not. 
Maggie takes food, flies away with it assumedly to the nest then returns for more
So every day at dawn and dusk, I get out in the front yard with my spoon of kangaroo mince and call my favourite, Mrs. Maggie Thatcher, down to have her snack if she is not already waiting. Here she is coming in for her afternoon tea, watch to the end for her delightful wobbly walking:

Maggie is the bravest and largest of our three; I haven't quite worked out her relationship to the other two, or if one of them is last year's fledgling that has not moved on yet, but she is definitely in charge of the troop and controls which magpies come in to the yard and who can take food from me. As you can see she has no hesitation in grabbing food for herself. Her fellow birds will stand back a little and let me throw the food the last foot or so to them.
Maggie taking pork mince from a spoon the Brashness is holding
Usually I get a little warbling song and dance for my trouble before Mrs. Thatcher will take the food from my fingers, with her then fluffing herself up in some kind of show of thanks, or maybe she is informing the neighbourhood I am a sucker. If I don't go out at the prescribed times she puts on the song and dance act back and forth in front of the door or window until I see her and go out. I have occasionally almost tripped over her such is her enthusiasm to get her snacks when I get outside. Once or twice I have driven home from work, turned into my street and spotted a magpie on a light pole who follows the car to the house, and sure enough it is Maggie waiting for her dinner.
Maggie singing for her supper
I find it very upsetting to see the continual battle we humans wage with nature, always pushing against the tide and trying to fight when we could work out ways to coexist. Birds such as these magpies are only doing magpie things and displaying perfectly normal Magpie behaviours when they react to humans in what we perceive to be negative ways. Trust me, that magpie doesn't hate you or your dog or your bike. You walked near her babies - The End. So guess what? Basically the only thing you can do to stop magpie attacks is, oddly enough, don't walk through their territory. Hey its six weeks of the year. Go the long way around the park to the shops. You can always put your Chico Roll in the microwave.
Why, yes, I was actually this close
Check out the Birds In Backyards  link to hear Maggie's beautiful song and find out more about magpies.