Yesterday was a beautiful fall day, the first day of fall in fact. We were a group of ten writers gathered in the backyard of a friend in Saskatoon. We were seated in a large circle, duly spaced according to COVID-19 regulations, far enough from traffic noise and close enough to each other to hear as we visited about writing and life in general.
Then another voice made itself heard. A blue jay landed on a branch above the heads of those of us sitting on one side of the circle and began making raucous comments. It was answered by another jay perched on the garage roof. After a short chat the jays departed and left the rest of us to continue our conversation.
A magpie is one of the most striking and beautiful birds that you will see in our parts. Its iridescent feathers may appear blue or almost black, depending on the way the light falls on them. Adults are 46 cm from beak to the tip of their long tail. The wingspread is 64cm and they are very graceful in flight.
Their song is anything but graceful, a harsh, loud chattering. Most people consider them a nuisance, even a pest. They steal pet food left outside and two of them will torment a cat, one chattering and walking back and forth in front, just out of reach, the other trying to sneak up behind to peck the cat’s tail.
Magpies are members of the Corvid family, related to crows, ravens, blue jays and gray jays. Birds of this family are reputed to be the most intelligent of all birds. Magpies are the only birds that can recognize themselves in a mirror.
Magpies are year round residents here and I consider them a nuisance in all seasons. My daughter likes to see them around, I can’t imagine why.
However, for the last few days I have sensing a most unfamiliar feeling within myself towards at least one magpie. We see it daily, pecking around on our lawn. It is unmistakably a magpie in all ways but one – it doesn’t have a tail. We wonder what disaster befell this bird that it has lost its tail feathers. It can fly, but it seems to take more energetic flapping of the wings than usual for a magpie. I’m sure the loss of a tail makes a big difference in its aerodynamics.
I’m sure the tail feathers will grow back. In the meantime – who would have ever thought that I would be feeling compassion for a magpie?