Being of mature dimensions I have long lived by an old Aussie maxim handed down by my ancestors: “Go to bed with the chooks and get up with the magpies”.
Since the local urban fox population waged a cruel war of attrition on our hapless backyard flock, we are a chookless household with only the humble magpie upon which to rely.
There really is no better way to start the day than rising on a crisp September morn to the oogle-oogle, woogle-squawk of those lovable black and white songbirds.
Of course, the true-blue Aussie has a love-hate relationship with the magpie and breeding season can result in pedestrians running a gauntlet of swooping, pecking, feathered maniacs defending their nests. Many a scabbed ear and cricked neck from ducking too sharply result from these encounters.
Who can remember the caravans of gawky kids cycling to school during swoop season and the many ingenious counter-magpie hacks put to use in the vain hope of avoiding a pecking?
Protective headgear ranged from full-face motocross helmets to the classic four-litre Peters ice cream tub with an eye slot cut out; others swore by more arcane methods such as a hat with two enormous cardboard eyes taped on the back or a headdress festooned with magpie feathers.
When the fledgeling Maggies emerged from the nest, however, hearts inevitably softened; those fuzzy grey bundles of joy squawking on the front lawn and scrabbling about in the bushes brought delighted smiles to the neighbourhood. Many kids made the mistake of taking “lost” baby magpies inside, where they would quickly expire until ornithologists came to the realisation that this ground-dwelling phase was merely a part of the chick’s development.
You have also got to love a species which has the guts to take on the irascible Wattle Birds in an eternal game of King Of The Hill; let’s face it, nobody likes the Wattle Bird, they are loud, ugly bullies and we all barrack for the Maggies over those smartarse nectar sippers.
The magpie’s beautiful song and noble bearing are only part of its charm; in its habits, the bird is far superior to say, the obnoxious Raven, the demented Seagull or the unspeakable “Bin Chicken”.
Yes, we love our magpie, he won’t go through your bins or nick your fish-and-chips as you enjoy a sunset dinner on the pier; his song wakes you to a new day with all its possibilities and the unexpected snap of his wife’s beak beside your earhole as you trudge to the train station is just the thing to jolt the sleep out of your eyes and put some pace on your gait.