My friend and fellow writer, Laura E. Goodin, is posting what she is grateful for as daily Lenten exercise on Facebook and she put up this lovely clip of an Australian magpie singing as part of it. This is only a small sample of their wonderful song. It's even more spectacular on moonlit nights here when the magpies carol for hours in glorious cadences. Breathtakingly beautiful. They are also excellent mimics. This one is interspersing its song with barking, sirens and other birds' songs but many are better. One living in the park near us can spend a full thirty minutes without repeating itself using its extensive repertoire of sounds like people talking, dogs barking, cats miaowing, lawn mowers, the school siren and much, much more.
The Australian magpie's habitat is widespread and they are plentiful in towns where many become very tame, especially those in parks. Although it's frowned on - because the birds may become dependent on humans - many people feed them and the magpies become very friendly. We don't feed them but the local tribe is so tame that they'll come into the garden when I'm working and snaffle up any creature that's exposed. I'm always pleased to have them there because they do a great pest control job.
I'm a real fan of maggies because, at various times when I was growing up, we had them living with us. These birds had been injured and couldn't fly so weren't able fend for themselves and they were brought to live in our large backyard. Because they normally live in family groups they made us and our dogs their family. They were very affectionate, climbing onto our laps when we sat outside and caressing us or riding on our shoulders as we went about our business.
Playful and highly intelligent, they delighted in tricks. One would steal small items from the laundry basket when Mum was hanging out the washing, run a short distance then call out. When she looked around, it would scamper off under the house where it would sit talking away until she left off trying to entice it out. Then it was out to do the same again. There must be quite a heap of socks there still because they never came out. Another delighted in teasing my grandmother who lived with us. When she went to plant seedlings it would wander around chatting to her as she worked. She'd think how sweet, then it would drop back to just far enough to be out of her reach, warble loudly, grab one of the newly planted seedlings and race off with her in pursuit. She never caught it.
While they are all territorial birds one of our residents took it to a whole different level. She claimed our entire backyard as her territory and at certain times of the year, after making sure the dog was nearby, she'd stand in the middle of the lawn calling challenges. Naturally, the neighbouring flocks would take offence and fly in to attack. Then Maggie would squawk loudly, the dog would race to her rescue and drive them off and after a short break, it would all happen again. This wasn't surprising as both our magpies had close relationships with our dogs. They would play together for hours like the dog and magpie in this clip and one would ride on the dog's back with no sign that the dog disapproved.
Not everyone has such a friendly relationship with magpies though, because in nesting season they can be aggressive in protecting their nests. They are quite selective in whom they attack - although I've never been attacked my daughter was dive bombed repeatedly once as a child while wearing her pink bicycle helmet and never at any other time - and conventional wisdom is that at some time in the past they've been harmed by someone who looks like the person being attacked. They certainly have excellent memories so it's entirely possible. As they're largish birds - 34 - 44 centimetres ( 14 - 18 inches) in length - with long sharp beaks they can do some real damage if they connect but for the most part they are more intent on scaring the person off.