Friday 22 May 2009

one for sorrow

So, the last chapter in the story of the magpies who nested in the plane tree at the front of the house.

On Wednesday, the single chick left the nest and spent a while hopping around on the road, before taking refuge in a bush. The parents spent the day to-ing and fro-ing with food, flying in and perching on ledges on this house and the house next door to check that all was clear, before dropping down to the chick.

Yesterday morning I looked out at first light and it was still in its bush, and all was quiet.

An hour later there was a huge kerfuffle going on. I went to the front room window and saw the magpies on the pavement angrily chattering and facing off a fox, that was sitting bolt upright on its haunches looking as though it was wondering how best to preserve its dignity. It decided on withdrawal, and sauntered off looking insolent, pursued by magpies.

In the middle of the road was the chick, apparently lifeless.

I went out and checked. Yes, the chick was dead and toothmarked. I moved it to the garden wall so that the parents could say goodbye properly. For the next hour or so they fluttered to and fro, chattering and pecking at the corpse to try to get it to respond.

After a while they went away.

In the evening, Katie and I went out for a last walk on the Downs as the sun set. On our return we saw a magpie perched silently on a rooftop at the end of the road.

A short while later there was more chattering at the front of the house; the two parents were fluttering between the nest, the road where the fox had dropped the chick, and the bush where it had spent its last day. They spent some time doing this.

This morning the chick was gone. I guess the fox had returned.


  1. Oh my lord! I had never felt an ounce of pity for the magpie before this morning. Thank you!

  2. Nice story, Dru, and that final picture is lovely. Foxes and magpies are both cunning, aggresive and well-adapted to urban life; I'd have enjoyed seeing them squaring up to each other.

    We're still waiting to see how many fox cubs invade our garden this year (they're running late). Two years ago we thought they were cute: now we regard them as a nuisance.

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  4. I'm all choked up here now Dru!

    Nature red in tooth and claw etc...

    It never ceases to amaze me how strong that instinct to protect your young is, in all creatures. The parents standing up to the fox says it all.

    PS That was me above...bloody typos!

  5. I never forget seeing a crow on a wire, screaming, literally. It was really yelling, obviously very disturbed and upset. I looked down, and there below it was another squashed crow in the street. I sat on the sidewalk and watched, and cried... I was so moved by that.

    Birds absolutely have feelings and emotions. Reading Alex and Me showed me that, too. Fabulous book, if you want to get to know a bird personality.

  6. They certainly do protect their babies the best they can. One of our cats was bullied for weeks by magpies after she killed one. I have been called out to the garden by blackbirds in the past to chase away a cat who's cornered a chick.

    I'm sorry the magpie story had such a sand end. Do they lay one egg at a time?

  7. It's been quite an education watching them, Paul; I have watched the magpies and jays proliferate in the city suburbs and seen them harry the local blackbirds; but cats and aspirational gardeners (ripping down ivy and putting up posh fence panels) seem at least as much of a threat to the songbirds.

    Thanks for that link, Tom. Now I know the way, I can follow your blog.

    Indeed, Jo and Chandira. I have been really struck by the intensity of the magpies' response to the death. They were keeping a silent vigil out there again last night.

    I don't know why there was only a single chick, Anji. Apparently they lay up to six eggs. Either food is scarce (hard to believe with Waitrose round the corner) or they are inexperienced parents.