Wednesday, 30 July 2014

There's been a murder

I've always defended the magpie, jay and their corvid brethren. Yes, they steal and yes, they munch on the odd baby bird or two, but their plumage is magnificent and as a nation of avid meat-eaters (which very few of us catch and kill ourselves), who are we to pass judgement on the corvid's roll in the avian food chain.

Having said all that, I shall now proceed to pass judgement on certain aspects of their behaviour....

Sharing the premises with a recently fledged family of six magpies and one of four jays is like living next door to a family of juvenile delinquents. First, there's the noise, that clack, clack, clacking laughing call. The one benefit of this racket is that it gives away of the location of the latest act of mischief:

- the woodshed, where they harangued the swallow family on a daily basis right up until the day the four chicks fledged (I've run the length of the top field on more than one occasion trying to get to the shed before the magpies get to the nest);

- the fruit patch, where they compete with the jays to see who can grab the most redcurrants in one snatch through the net (so much so that the weight of all those corvids proved to the the last straw for the rotting wooden post holding up the netting);

- the sheep field, where they take it in turns to hop on and off the back of a sheep like kids on a playground roundabout;

and worst of all

- under the horse chestnut trees, where poor old Charlie was attacked mid-toilet. Did they mistake his hunched black and white form for an over-sized enemy magpie? The poor cat hasn't run so fast since the onset of arthritis in his back legs. When I finally caught up with him he was at the top of the stairs in the house, wide eyed and panting like a dog, with a messy back end and a chunk of fur (complete with a small patch of skin) missing from his side. 

When these asbo magpies are not assaulting ageing cats, they're snacking on the chickens' layers pellets (which might account for the high number of family members), stealing WHOLE fat balls from the bird feeder (serves me right for snapping off and losing  the lid) or dodging between snuffling snouts to snaffle pig nuts from the trough. Funnily enough, every member of the family is big and glossy! 

I have yet to catch anyone in the act, but I'm pretty sure it's a magpie with a talent for thievery and a nosey beak who plucks the white seed label from the end of the rows of seedlings in the veg plot, gives each label a good pecking, then tosses it aside. Right now I can't tell my purple sprouting from my tat soi or my leaf beet from my beetroot. Brazen, totally brazen!

Dave stands at the bedroom window, air rifle in hand, pretending to take pot shots as a magpie swoops from left to right heading for the chicken run. But that's all it is, pretending. Like the moles who pepper the lawn with mud mountains, the squirrels who strip bark from the sycamore and the housemartins who drop poop on the path, we put up with these little nuisances because life wouldn't be the same without them.

Here's an interesting fact - the collective noun for the magpie is not a murder. I assumed that perhaps the same collective noun would apply for all the corvids. Hence the blog title. Silly me. It seems a number of birds merit a collective noun all of their own. For the magpie it's a "conventicle", which my online dictionary tells me means "secret or unlawful religious meeting, typically of nonconformists". That pleases me immensely. However, I find the concept of "a herd of wrens" rather perplexing.

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