Magpies get a bad reputation, with organisations like the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and other fronts for commercialised farming and shooting condemning them as a threat to songbirds. This nonsense, but I’ve posted extensively on this before and want this to just be about the birds.
I describe them as a sparring partner to the wood pigeon as in any garden I have had, they always seem to come into conflict. Not life-or-death, predator-prey conflict. Just ‘there’s a big tray of food and we both want it all’ conflict.
The pigeons are generally there in greater numbers, and have weight on an individual basis. But the magpies have intelligence, cunning. They know how to manipulate the situation. I’ve seen one distract the pigeons while the other flies in, grabs food and leaves. On one memorable occasion a magpie kept pulling the pigeon’s tail, then when the pigeon turned round, the magpie acted nonchalant until the pigeon relaxed again. At which point the game repeated. Until eventually the pigeon got sick of it and left. I’m aware how much the term ‘nonchalant’ anthropomorphises the magpies, but there is little better way of putting it. Magpies, like most corvids, understand the notion of being watched and are capable of taking deliberate actions to try mitigate that.
It’s the character and intelligence that gets me, and the level of individuality that comes through. One individual, while in other ways bold, was terrified of a small ceramic dish. It would eat food from around it, but if food was in it he would have to be really desperate first.
I’ve seen a magpie try to dismantle a whirligig washing line, and once I saw a gang of them try to start my lawnmower.
Magpies have a level of intelligence that mean they do things for the hell of it. They do not need to know there is a reward, they will try anything just to see what happens. It’s hard not to love them for that.