magpie defined in 1930 yearmagpie - Magpie;
magpie - Head, throat, neck, and back velvet-black; scapulars and under plumage white; tail much graduated, and, as well as the wings, black, with lustrous blue and green reflections; beak and feet black. Length, eighteen inches.
In spite of his evil reputation, the magpie is regarded by most persons who are not breeders of pheasants with exceptional interest, and even affection. He has some very attractive qualities, and is one of that trio of corvine birds - pie, chough, and jay - from which it is difficult to single out the most beautiful. The most conspicuous he undoubtedly is, in his black and white plumage; and his figure, with its long, graduated tail, is also the most elegant. In his habits there is abundant variety, and in sagacity he is probably unsurpassed by any member of the corvine family, which counts so many wily brains. His excessive cunning and rapid rate of increase have probably served to save him from the fate that has overtaken the hen harrier and marsh-harrier, and many another beautiful member of the British avifauna. As it is, he has been almost extirpated throughout a large part of England and Scotland. In Ireland, however, he is still a common species, but, oddly enough, he is not indigenous to that country. It is believed that he first appeared tthere about, or a little more than, two centuries and a half ago. How he got there is not known. According to Yarrell, there is a widespread belief in Ireland that the magpie was imported into that island by the English out of spite.
The magpie is as singular in his motions, gestures, and flight as he is beautiful in colour and elegant in form. On the wing he appears most conspicuous when the white webs of the quills are displayed. The wings are very short, and the flight is slow and somewhat wavering, and at every three or four yards there is an interval of violent wing-beats, during which the black and white of she quills mix and become nearly grey. High in the air he has a most curious appearance; as a rule he flies low, passing from tree to tree, or along the side of a hedge. He seeks his food on the ground, and his movements are then utterly unlike those of any other ground-feeder. His manner of running and hopping about, flinging up his tail; his antics and little, excited dashes, now to this side, now to that, give the idea that he is amusing himself with some solitary game rather than seeking food. Richard Jefferies has given so accurate and vivid a picture of the bird in his 'Wild Life in a Southern County ' that I cannot refrain from quoting it in this place. 'To this hedge the hill-magpie comes; some magpies seem to keep entirely to the downs, while others range the vale, though there is no apparent difference between them. His peculiar uneven, and, so to say, flickering flight marks him out at a distance, as he jauntily journeys along beside the slope. He visits every fir-copse and beech-clump in his way, spending some time, too, in and about the hawthorn hedge, which is a favourite spot. Sometimes in the spring, when the corn is yet short and green, if you glance carefully through an opening in the bushes, or round the side of the gateway, you may see him busy on the ground. His rather excitable nature betrays itself in every motion: he walks, now to the right a couple of yards, now to the left in quick zigzag, so working across the field towards you; then, with a long rush, he makes a lengthy traverse at the top of his speed; turns, and darts away again at right angles; and presently up goes his tail, and he throws his head down with a jerk of the whole body, as if he would thrust his beak deep into the earth. This habit of searching the field, apparently for come favourite grub, is evidence in his favour that he is not so entirely guilty as he has been represented of innocent blood. No bird could be approached in that way. All is done in a jerky, nervous manner. As he turns sideways, the white feathers show with a flash above the green corn; another moment, and he looks all black.'
In disposition the magpie is restless, inquisitive, excitable, and loquacious. Where he is greatly persecuted by gamekeepers - as, indeed, is the case almost everywhere in England - he grows so wary that, in spite of his conspicuous colouring, it would be almost Impossible to get a glimpse of him, were it not for his outbursts of irrepressible excitement and garrulity. The sight of a stoat, fox, or prowling cat will instantly cause him to forget the more dangerous keeper and his gun, and to fill the coppice with cries of alarm. The feathered inhabitants of the wood hurry from all sides to ascertain the cause of the outcry, and assist in driving out the intruder. But the keeper, too, hears; this is the opportunity he has been long watching and waiting for; and if he approaches the scene of excitement with due caution, poor beautiful Mag, dead, and shattered with shot, will soon be added to his festering trophies.
The usual sound emitted by the magpie is an excited chatter - a note with a hard, percussive sound, rapidly repeated half a dozen times. It may be compared to the sound of a wooden rattle, or to the bleating of a goat; but there is always a certain resemblance to the human voice in it, especially when the birds are unalarmed, and converse with one another in subdued tones. But it is more like the guttural voice of the negro than the white man's voice. Their subdued chatter has sometimes produced in me the idea that I was listening to the low talking and laughing of a couple of negroes lying on their backs somewhere near. It is well known that this bird can be taught to articulate a few words.
The magpie is a notable architect, and as a rule builds his nest in a tall tree in or on the borders of a wood; sometimes in a low, isolated tree or large bush, or in the centre of a thick hedge. It is large, and formed of sticks and mud, with a hollow in the centre, plastered with mud and lined with fibrous roots; over this solid platform and nest a large dome of loosely interwoven thorny sticks is built, with a hole in the side just large enough to admit the bird.
Magpies pair for life, and the nest may serve the birds for several years, a little repairing work being bestowed on it each spring. The eggs are usually six in number, but in some cases as many as nine are laid. In colour they are pale bluish green, very thickly spotted and freckled with olive-brown, and faintly blotched with ash-colour.
The magpie may be easily tamed; even the wild birds, when not persecuted, become strongly familiar with man, and come about the house like fowls. In a state of nature he subsists on grubs, worms, snails, slugs, and various insects, and will eat any kind of animal food that offers, not excepting carrion; he also devours young birds and eggs, and is fond of ripe fruit. He is supposed to be a deadly enemy of the poultry-yard, and a stealer of pheasant and partridge chicks; but it is certain that his depredations have been greatly exaggerated.
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