Thursday, 25 April 2013

Morning, Colonel

I should think that, in this country, the magpie is the bird with the worst reputation.  We are told that there has been a drastic decline in the number of our smaller song birds and many people blame this on the magpie for eating both eggs and young birds.  Granted, there do seem to be more magpies around now than there were a few years back, but over he last few months there also seem to have been more and more of the smaller song birds in the garden.  As well as house sparrows (no sign of the supposed decline in their numbers!) we see more chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches, blue and great tits and wrens than ever before, with plenty of blackbirds and a sprinkling of robins, song thrushes and hedge sparrows.  And although there are more magpies in the park than there used to be, there doesn't appear to be a commensurate decline in the numbers of other, smaller birds.

There is an old rhyme about magpies:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy.

Seeing just one magpie on its own is thought to portend bad luck in some form or other whereas two magpies together are the opposite.  There is a way to fend off the possibility of bad luck coming if one sees a lone magpie.  One is supposed to greet the bird with a respectful "Good morning, Mr Magpie.  And how is your lady wife?"  Or one can doff one's hat, spit over one's shoulder three times, or even flap one's arms and say, "caw" to imitate the missing second bird!  Or just salute and say, "Good morning, Colonel".

In Scotland a single magpie near the window of a house is not just bad luck but the sign of impending death; possibly because they were believed to carry a drop of the devil's blood under their tongue. Some believe that the reason the magpie is cursed is because it was the only bird that didn't sing and comfort Jesus when he was crucified on the cross. In German, Italian, French, and Norwegian folklore magpies are often depicted as thieves. Yet in China the name of the bird is translated as "happiness magpie" and spotting one it is considered a sign of good luck.

1 comment:

#1Nana said...

Never knew all that about magpies. I really dislike them for all the reasons you stated...and they are noises and leave bird poop all over my patio. A few years ago they ate all the fish in our little pond. Nasty birds!