Magpies: On Shiny Objects and Flying Solo.

The embarrassment didn’t settle on me as my treasure was secure and jangling in my hoodie’s pocket two blocks from home.  Seven shiny pennies would clink into my circus elephant bank in a matter of steps– seven!  Nearly a dime’s worth.  But better, because there are seven.  And there is something about the bronze-copper skin of Lincoln that is superior to a dimming silver in that from-the-shores-and-caves-of-Tortuga sort of way.  You know.  Pirate stuff.


But these gems weren’t procured after a fortnight’s voyage through the Caribbean.  These are the result of me bent head first into a stranger’s bright blue trash can, my 97 pound dog pulling the opposite direction with the mortification of a 16-year-old accompanying her institutionalized mother on a rare town outing.  Never mind the honking horns and slowing cop cars.  Never mind the disgusted look on the face of my now-ex when I explain where these most recent riches were found.  I’ve got seven pennies ringing like New Year’s Day because some fool misplaced their belief that all that glitters is gold.

Magpies and me?  We are like a regular Bonnie and Clyde of shiny objects.  These Eurasian-and-sometimes-Coloradan birds, best known in Scottish folklore for their role of bringing death to each household they window-perch, have a knack for everyday thieving that would earn them gainful employment for Bill Sykes himself.  They have a distinct advantage over me, of course, with their sky high getaway cars and bird’s eye views.  But I’m certain the delight in each acquisition of glistening garbage is evenly matched.


Before the onslaught of congratulations for holding the same values as a literal bird brain, it is important to note that magpies aren’t your common robin IQ.  These are the only birds who can recognize themselves in a mirror or a photograph.  These are the only birds who cut their food– and their babies’ food– to appropriate portions.  If you hold these feathered friends in captivity with bad housekeeping, they will literally build tools to clean it out (and likely complain to the general manager).  These creatures can take down predators of mass destruction with more tact and strategy than the US government.  And that’s just to get them through winter.

And despite all of their intellect, luck-and-death folklore, and general beauty (have I mentioned these birds are also gorgeous?  I took on a full about-face on my first encounter just to catch another glimpse), they are best known for their insatiable need to collect shiny objects.

Last weekend would have been my fourth anniversary had I decided to stay and work things out and hope that two angry birds could share one tiny nest.  Magpies mate for life.  Though usually the annoyingly chattery type, the men use the ancient secret of low sweet talking to lure their lady.  Once she is secured, they resume their cackling banter for the rest of their lives.  Or until one of them dies.

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It is also common knowledge, however, that the sight of two magpies is the promise of good weather.  When the weather is fine, the magpies concede to hunt together.  But the moment a storm or cold scarce winter begins, the two separate, agreeing that it is better that they each scavenge and keep what they find for themselves so that they may both have a chance to survive, rather than splitting feathers over who gets the larger berry.  Practical birds, certainly, even if a little less than romantic.  This life lesson sponsored by Nature may not be one that I need in most situations, anymore.  But for occasions like the commemoration of what is lost, this bird is happy to have flown solo.


Autumn is playing its trickery, again, where the trees masquerade themselves with too much rouge and slowly lose layers like a well practiced show girl.  Even the gold of these Halloween leaves couldn’t persuade a magpie.  They would be more preoccupied with the coin I found today in the movie theater parking lot.  This puts me one beak up on the magpies, I think.  The end of the storm– if this is the end– may not have brought me back to an old once-smooth-talking-mate-for-life.  But I’ve got two eyes full of fall, one dime to thumb in my pocket, and more shiny objects than I can carry in one hand.


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