Scientific name: Pica pica
The Magpie is common throughout Europe and is a member of the crow family. At first sight the dominant colours are black and white, but a closer look will reveal various iridescent shades of green, blue and bronze. They are very vocal and their distinctive, repeated "chacker, chacker" call is unmistakable
They have long had an association with humans and over the centuries they have been included in folklore. Most superstitions are about bad luck and to overcome this one should greet magpies by saying hello and enquire about their wellbeing and that of their family, eg. "Good morning, and how is your wife". Encountering a single Magpie carries the most negative omens, so one should repeat "I defy thee" seven times. It has been a common belief that they are attracted by bright objects which they take to their nests, but careful observations have shown that this is not the case. This probably led to them being regarded as thieves in most cultures. In the middle ages when witchcraft was a prominent belief, they were treated like crows and black cats.
There are many versions of a rhyme of unknown origins which predicts the future depending on the number of Magpies sighted:-
One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl, four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold;
Seven for a secret, never to be told;
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss;
Ten for a bird that's best to miss
They do not pose a direct problem for gardeners, except that they can raid the nests of other birds for eggs and nestlings. They have a varied diet which includes insects, rodents, carrion, grain, berries and fruit.
In springtime the males perform a courtship display and after pairing both partners build a bulky framework of sticks cemented with clay, usually high up in the branches of a tree. At the centre the nest is made with fine roots and protected from above with more branches with a single entrance. The pair remain together for life.
The female incubates the five to eight relatively small, blue-green, speckled eggs which are incubated for 21 to 23 days - both parents are involved in feeding. The nestlings fledge after a further 22 to 28 days and there is usually just one brood per year unless the first one is lost.
Back to GARDEN CREATURES