Just put some cold roast potatoes out on the bird table and within five minutes they were being devoured by three noisy, quarrelsome magpies, the crafty opportunist bird of folklore. Must be the King Edward flavour that sent them a bit loopy – they couldn’t get enough of them carbs man!
Magpies. Gang members in bizarre garb. That confident flick of the long tail. The trademark flight, undulating, unsteady, just enough lift. That cocky walk through tussock and over meadow, turning horse turds. Dressed up for a show. Do they really steal shiny objects and place them in their nests? Perhaps not. Do they tease other birds like falcons and hawks? Definitely yes, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. One cheeky magpie on a telegraph wire prodding and pulling at a kestrel’s tail feathers. Do they raid the nests of smaller birds for eggs and fledglings? Oh yes. Tis nature’s way of balancing things out.
And I can see some stretched out on the gamekeeper’s ‘display fence’ when I was a kid, alongside jays and crows and weasels and things. That was a long time ago; don’t think the gamekeepers are still shooting everything that moves?
So, the magpie loves roasties. We’ll keep filling them up so they won’t have to go nest raiding…..
It’s a new craze called the Wood Pigeon. A mix of dance, mating ritual and artistic posturing it could catch on like a wildfire if this warm, dry weather continues. I witnessed a live performance this very morning, on a dry stone wall near the hamlet of Little Lepton in West Yorkshire. There, in public, were two healthy looking wood pigeons, unmistakable with their stone grey and subtle mauvey green undertones, white bars on wings and smudges on neck. One of them, the male, was approaching the female with short, rhythmical hops. It would walk towards her then hop, walk then hop. It wasn’t any ordinary hop but a meaningful determined mini-hop, meant to impress, gain a reaction. She backed off, a little bashful, but didn’t appear too put off at the male’s forwardness. In fact, she even responded with her own encouraging hops, turning this way then that. Then, in a move designed to hypnotise and lure, the male bowed deeply, raising his tail into the air whilst the white markings on his neck stood out. He did this four or five times, hopping and bowing with a serious yet wishful intent, – before we advanced and upset the whole show.
The pair flew off to a nearby sycamore and waited until the coast was clear before flying back down to resume their courtship ritual on those warm, misshapen stones.