Magpie Love

Edmonton's most well-known citizen (photo: Rick MacWilliam Edmonton Journal)

Magpies. Everybody is talking about them, and the word is…not good. Too noisy, too messy, too predatory. I am on record as being corvid-friendly. In fact, it’s worse than that: I am mad for corvids, and that includes crows, ravens, and especially, magpies. 99% of the time, I walk alone. That’s just the way it is, for better or worse, but even in the deepest part of the woods, on the coldest of days, magpies will be there in the trees like airborn orcas, or swooping in alongside me on the trails. They are not a nuisance, they are comrades.

Occasionally, I fill my pockets with peanuts and scatter them on the ground for their dining pleasure. I feed them on my balcony. I appreciate their presence in my life, and in the often dreary landscape of Edmonton. Barring a sudden (and rather unlikely) migration of monkeys and apes to our northern borders, corvids are the most intelligent creatures sharing space with us in this city, and like most Edmontonians, they are omnivores. Unlike most Edmontonians, they eat to live. They are not emotional eaters; they do not consume baby robins because the boy magpie they love has a girlfriend. French fries, peanuts, old wieners…whatever comes to hand (or claw) is good enough, and as champion garbage producers and litterers, humans have assured the magpies a neverending supply of tasty, tasty sustenance. Robins are just another protein, albeit one with lovely vocal abilities. I hear cows sing quite nicely (with some persuasion), but we still eat them.

As for their voices, we should all be grateful that it’s not me sitting in a tree at 5:00 in the morning singing my heart out. A magpie’s screech is not a pleasant thing, but it is interesting and highly variable, depending on the situation. I sense active, complex communication. If a magpie is yelling at you, there is a reason. Yes, it’s your fault. They are engaging with us, and I think that is fascinating. And admirable. As an artist, I appreciate their sculptural sturdiness, and their beautiful, graceful lines. When I look at a magpie in my birdfeeder, picking through the peanuts for the perfect specimen, if they happen to look at me, I feel seen. Acknowledged. I’ve yet to experience that with my cat.

Paula Simons’¬†article in the Edmonton Journal on July 9th, in response to the vile, hostile comments about the magpie ‘problem’ in Edmonton, was deeply satisfying, well said, and much appreciated. Nice to know there are other magpie lovers in the city. I will save my hostilities, and they are legion, for more deserving targets, like those damned robins.

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