Posted by: Ross Gardner | March 8, 2017

Magpie

Nearly a whole month has passed since my last post on this blog.  Shame on me for my neglectfulness!!

I will return to my keyboard with what comes as close to controversy as I am ever likely to get on these pages. Magpies!!!  I have been watching one in the garden collecting nest material for the coming spring.  As has been the case in previous years, they appear particularly fond of the delicate, pliable twigs of our silver birch, selecting them with all the careful consideration that one might expect from a member of the crow clan, sometimes even snapping them straight from source.

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Magpie (Pica pica). Ross Gardner 2017

It got me thinking about this undeniably handsome and canny creature.  They are also, of course, that most scorned of our birds, variously described as “murderous”, “a menace” (as the Daily Mail once described them) and through the use of numerous other histrionically deployed adjectives.  As highly adaptable omnivores with taste for eggs and young birds among the many other things, it is the magpie that some say are single-beakedly exacting the decline in songbirds that has recently been observed in Britain.  This is an assumption that is often made without any real evidence and a reluctance to accept the very real and proven toll that habitat loss and modern agriculture has taken on our bird populations.

The maths don’t particularly add up either.  The UK magpie population is based on an estimated 600,000 breeding territories.  They might predate on such birds as the blackbird, song thrush (one of the much-declined species in question), or robin, with respective breeding populations of 5 million pairs, 1+ million territories and  6.7 million territories.  Assuming, for the sake of simple explanation, that a breeding territory implies a breeding pair, that’s already getting on for 13 million pairs (a ratio of 1:21) before raising young when populations will briefly as much as quadruple.  And then there are the likes of the greenfinch (1.7 million pairs), dunnock (2.5 million breeding territories) and others also potentially on the menu.  Even taking into account other bird predators, such as the sparrowhawk (of which, incidentally, there are only 70,000), there really is plenty to go round.

And as for describing them as ‘murderous’ or ‘a menace’, they are merely doing what magpies do in order to survive.  There is no malice of forethought.  That faculty is the reserve of another species who really ought not be throwing stones in glass houses.

There you go.  Campaign over.  Lets hear it for crow-kind.

 

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