Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pica pica

It's quite a while since I regaled you with some nature notes, so here goes once again.

The magpie (pica pica) is not the most popular bird in the country.  Although scientific research does not back up the claim, many people assert that the decline in song birds over the last couple of decades is due, in no small part, to an increase in the magpie population.  The magpie is a member of the crow family and, like all crows, is an omnivore, quite happy to raid other birds' nests to take eggs and chicks.  Far more than most birds, and certainly more than any other crow, the magpie has customs and tales associated with it.  In some parts of the country - or maybe across the whole of the country - there are people who insist that a magpie should be greeted with a respectful, "Good morning, colonel".

Then there are the rhymes, with at least two slightly different versions of this none:
1 for sorrow
2 for joy
3 for a girl and
4 for a boy
5 for silver
6 for gold
7 is a secret never to be told
8 is a wish and
9 is a kiss
10 is a bird you must not miss. 
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 seen flying or croaking around a house or sitting alone symbolizes that misfortune is present.  If one is seen on the way to church it signifies that death is present, and some folks believe that it is best to cross yourself to ward off evil or negative energies whilst saying, 'Devil, Devil, I defy thee’.  Then there is the old English tradition that if one magpie flies by, you should take your hat off and bow, saying the Devil, Devil bit.

But what really got me going on about magpies is the fact that as I was leaving the park, I counted no fewer than 24 of them sitting in one elm tree, with others close by.  What, I wondered, is the collective noun for a group of magpies?  I know of a charm of goldfinches and a parliament of rooks, but apparently the collective noun for magpies can be a tittering, a murder or a tiding.

So there you have the trivia for Tuesday.  Except that today is Wednesday, so I'm a day late.


Sarah said...

It's a Tiding of Magpies BP (I had to google that). We used to count them on the way to school on the bus, at certain times of the year there were literally hundreds of them. I have to confess, I quite like them, they have character.

Sarah said...

Or apparently they are also called: Magpies, a charm of
Magpies, a congregation of
Magpies, a flock of
Magpies, a gulp of
Magpies, a mischief of
Magpies, a murder of
Magpies, a tiding of
Magpies, a tidings of
Magpies, a tittering of
Magpies, a tribe of

Who knew?

joeh said...

I believe it is a "murder" of crows, so I'm going with that.

Jenny Woolf said...

Magpies. Hm. I know they are very destructive but somehow I like them. And I always wish them good morning!

Suldog said...

I always thought it was a Heckle of Magpies. Or was it a Jeckle of magpies? Maybe it was both...