Nature Notes: Black and white?

Nature Notes: Black and white?

Nature Notes: Black and white?

First published in Columns Wandsworth Guardian: Photograph of the Author by

Apart from the rose-ringed parakeet and Canada goose, few birds cause more controversy than the magpie. However, not all is black and white.

Handsome he may be and the bird in the photograph, having replenished most of his plumage apart from head feathers following the summer moult, positively glows in iridescent blues and greens, depending on how the light catches it.

The controversy concerns his alleged habit of targetting birds eggs, nestlings, recently fledged young and a liking for shiny objects, hence 'thieving magpie'. Many people defend the bird and don't accept his predatory nature as normal behaviour.

My experience this year involves a brood of blackbirds that nested nearby. The recently fledged young numbering three, were constantly harassed by a pair of local magpies announcing their arrival into the garden by a series of harsh calls sounding very much like old fashioned wooden football rattles.

By the beginning of August, only one young blackbird remained, but admittedly I have no conclusive proof that the other two were attacked by magpies and they could have fallen victims to cats or other predators. But I have my suspicions.

Apart from frequent arguments with crows and jays, magpies have few avian enemies. Recently, when watching a sparrowhawk concealed in a leafy oak devouring a vole, a magpie also spotted it and flew fast at it, startling the hawk into rapid vocal flight, dropping its prey as it bolted.

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