As an omnivorous, voracious scavenger, the Magpie is firmly within the curious realm of what one could call the canon of contentious garden birds; a marmite, if you like, of love and hate, similar to the Jay, and anything but, for example, the gentle, loveable Long-tailed tit. But there are always two sides to the coin: yes, Magpies have been accused of stealing and consuming the eggs of innocent garden birds, but they have also been seen as incredibly adept at warding off similarly dangerous pests.
Over the past two decades and beyond, Magpies have shot up in number across the UK, and are now among the most commonly observed garden birds in the UK. But along with this rapid increase in population has arisen a most abundant form of hatred among people, and this is, apparently, put down mainly to their “cheeky behaviour”. This, however, can’t be the whole truth, and one author, Steve Roud, believes it could be related to the deep superstitions held in traditional British folklore, which links the Magpie to the devil. Despite this, they are often thrown in with crows as the ultimate reflection of evil in physical form: movies like The Omen do not help their case. In contrast to this, the Magpie is, in fact, the national bird of Korea, adored by many as being the harbinger of good fortune.
And of course black has traditionally been related to evil, dark spirits and wrongdoing, whereas white is angelic, holy and good: the Magpie is somewhat enigmatic in that it encompasses both these contrasting neutrals. Perhaps, as a consequence of such ambiguity, there is increased suspicion, and less trust.
But is this somewhat despised bird really so bad? Does it deserve, as the BBC have described it, “the bird people most love to hate?” Let’s take a deeper look at the Magpie, and you can decide for yourselves.