Divebombing magpies

The other day on the news there was a child who was attacked by a magpie, and tragically his eye was damaged. He was an amazing kid: the reporter asked him whose fault it was and he said Dad's, because dad forgot to tell him not to ride his bike in the magpie season. I wondered why it was only dad and not mum, but apart from that, it's a pretty wise way to look on life. But what I wanted to think about today was whether anything positive can be done to improve the sometimes poor relations between people and magpies.

Now when I look back at our wonderful friendship with Maggie and the other magpies of our neighbourhood, I have to admit that the reason doesn't lie on the human side of the friendship. Before we met Maggie, Gitie was bird-phobic and I didn't think much about them. Except for myself being attacked when I was a child, they hadn't much entered into my consciousness. No, there was nothing specially enlightened in our side of the thing, it was entirely the extraordinary character and intelligence of Maggie that brought our friendship about.

An account of our meeting Maggie is already in the main articles on the site, so if you've read that you'll know how he took the exceptional step of trusting a human and two huge dogs. That was only the first of the many remarkable things he has done; he shows penetrating insight, takes risks, and has a larikin-like generosity: time and again we've seen him make some arrangement that benefits everyone around him - and himself too, in the bargain. And by becoming everyone's friend he has become the senior king magpie of the district.

But Maggie is an individual. What he did is not what every magpie does. Just to run through the other male magpies we've known: Billy has featured in this blog before: he is Mag's younger adopted brother, and until this year he was clearly deficient in magpie terms: his main thought was about his stomach at all times. He was brave, such as when he saved us from a snake, but in the main his tummy overwhelmed all other thoughts. His dad was the previous senior magpie of the area. He was not brilliantly imaginative like Mags, but he had a heart of gold and he put up with all sorts of impositions to accommodate our growing friendship with Maggie, who would otherwise have had to leave home years ago. And then there was Billy's younger brother Bunty. Bunty's heart was overflowing with love. He was a huge bird and he had a runt sister called Kimbie (our "dag princess"), and he let this tiny bird tip him over and have great fun playing with him. Sadly he had to leave the area by the time he became an adult, so we don't see him now - although he has called back a few times just to show us that he is alright.

My point is that it is not accurate to say "magpies" (or any higher animals) are all this or are all that - whether good or bad. Each one is an individual. Some are scared of all humans and attack them, as they assume the humans will try to hurt their babies. Some, like Maggie, are happy-go-lucky entrepreneurs. Some, like Bunty, are saints with wings. Just the same as humans come in all kinds, because humans are individuals, so too are animals. I don't think I have any all-singing all-dancing answer to preventing magpie attacks. But I do know we have to take the time, just as we would with humans, to understand them as individuals. We need to get to know the local animals, not just as members of a species, but as individuals. The other big problem is that we can't control everything. You might spend hours putting a local wild animal at ease, and some other person chucks a rock at it or scares it some other way, and all your good work is ruined. So another part of our job has to be to help other people to also understand animals better, to make friends, and help the animals feel safe with humans. I can imagine a world in which no one does anything that ever hurts an animal and makes it turn hostile. Maggie and his freinds come to our door and sing us beautiful songs. There is no reason everyone can't have the same joy with their local animals. So when we do little things to spread understanding and friendship amongst people, let's remember to include animals too!

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