A Very Clever Magpie

We have a pair of magpies that live on our property and who have done so for a few years now.

Meet Maggie, the matriarch.

And this is Igor, the patriarch.

This pair are often seen in the trees around our home and also sitting on our veranda railing, and sometimes we give them a bit of food. Neither of them are too friendly, and just prefer you to throw them a bit of meat.  Maggie wants you to throw her meat on the ground so she can pick it up and run off with it into the neighbour’s property (yes, she actually does run!), while Igor will catch the meat and then fly off somewhere.

The past few years they have had one or two babies each season, but this year they had 3! Meet the Three Amigos. (This photo is a few months old.)

Igor is a very strong head of the family and he doesn’t like intruders. At all. There have been the occasional visiting magpies but they don’t stay for long because Igor takes after them with a vengeance and sometimes Maggie joins in too. This was mostly happening when the baby magpies were still young and being fed by their mum. The babies are a lot older now, although this doesn’t stop the parents having a go at someone every now and then just to make it clear whose territory they’re in.

Earlier in the year, I saw an adult magpie fly onto the veranda and Igor chased it away. But the magpie kept returning, and kept being chased off. Then one day I saw the magpie turn up again but this time, it wasn’t being chased away.

This new magpie was slinking along the wall of the house, slowly, quietly, and all the while, making strange noises. The sounds were so quiet, and I had never heard a magpie make these sounds before. I watched Igor hunch his back and walk right up to the new magpie, but it kept slinking away making these unusual sounds. Then after a bit, Igor just turned around and strutted off.

Ever since then, this magpie has been tolerated by our magpie family. It turns up when a bit of food is on offer, and the bird acts like a magpie usually does, even scaring off the juvenile pied butcherbirds to get a bit of food, but as soon as Igor arrives, this magpie instantly starts making this weird sound. On top of that, it either walks right up to my feet or backs away against a wall with its back to Igor. Everytime, Igor follows this bird for awhile, like he’s deciding whether or not to attack, and then suddenly stalks off, no longer interested. Then this new magpie will come up to my feet and even open its beak sometimes, just like a baby bird wanting to be fed. I have even hand fed it some meat a few times, but I had to actually put the food into its open beak like a mother bird does!

Having observed this behaviour time and time again now since February, I can only conclude that this new magpie hasn’t found his own territory or found a mate yet and is pushing in on our magpie family’s area, and in order to preserve its life, it has begun cowering in front of the male boss magpie and emits sounds to give the impression he is weak or perhaps even act like a baby to show he isn’t a threat. This way, he gets to hang around the area and get a bit of food as well. A very clever magpie indeed!

Since this magpie is becoming a regular visitor, I’ve named him Ramsey. At least I think it’s a male because the white patch on the back of its head is very white.

Here’s a short video I took a few days ago of Ramsey making these sounds, and yes, Igor was only 3 feet away watching on. You might notice that Ramsey slow blinks while he’s making those noises.

I am no expert in birds and this is only what I have observed and what I think based on what I’ve seen, so if you know of a different reason that can explain this magpie’s strange behaviour, please let me know!


6 thoughts on “A Very Clever Magpie

  1. I love the story and the images and video , I think most suburban magpies have their homes or more, ours have a group of houses spread over a couple of blocks. Ours will come in and sing for their treats, sometimes in the doorway and with a neighbour they walk through the house, in the front door and out the back.

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    1. Thanks Denis. How lovely you get magpies dropping by a treat and singing for you, I really love their carolling. And what a funny story about your neighbour with the magpies helping themselves in his house. 🙂

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  2. Magpies have always intrigued me as to their tight knit family structure, and how their extended family work together to raise the young. It is interesting that this lone Magpie has come in, it may be dislocated from the family or possibly searching for mate as you have observed. Observation is what real birding is all about, we can learn so much. Yes, the youngsters of most birds look like the female till they mature, and the Magpie female will not only have the dirty white neck marking but also the scalloped pattern on the chest. They are more grey than black. Thanks for sharing Sue:-)

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