Magpies - What Are They Doing?
Magpie ~ Pica pica
This pair of magpies may well be nesting near to Newington Green and they visit there regularly to look for food. However, the behaviour shown in the photo is more unusual, as one of the birds is 'sunbathing' on the grass. According to the British Trust for Ornithology, BTO, this behaviour is 'part of their routine feather maintenance'. The sun probably helps birds to spread oil across their feathers and to drive away parasites from their plumage. (Bird Table p.22 Summer 2010). The magpie's opened wings shows the beautiful iridescent blue of the wing feathers which often goes unnoticed, as their mainly black and white colouring is very dominant.
Magpies are omnivores - that is they eat just about anything! They are scavengers, they predate on other birds, they eat beetles, insects and various pest species. They have a harsh, grating call and they are not very popular.
John Clare (1793 - 1864) describes magpies that were presumably collecting nesting materials, in his poem ' Recollections After a Ramble' (the spellings are as Clare wrote them):
...'Brazen magpies, fond of clack,
Full of insolence and pride,
Chattering on the donkey's back
Percht, and pull'd his shaggy hide'....
There are many old superstitions built up around magpies in England and in other countries, where magpies are often thought to bring bad luck - but in China they are seen as bringing happiness.
Magpies are found all over the UK and Newington Green has a large number of birds living in the area. In the Spring, a flock of fourteen magpies were recorded on the Green - more birds than the traditional children's rhyme about magpies includes. This rhyme was recorded for the first time in England around 1780, when magpies were less common than they are now.
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 you must not miss.