How to Speak Magpie - 1

One of the things that has amazed me, and amazed me over and over again, is the intelligence of Australian Magpies. They know how to talk to us, but do we know how to understand what they are saying? I have learned a few "phrases" in magpie language since meeting our Maggie Magpie, and I want to tell you one today that I learned from Maggie's wife Vicky.

I call this the J-phrase. Vicky has used it at least twice with Gitie and me. She might have used it even more than that, but we perhaps didn't notice and Vicky would probably have thought how dense these humans can be at times.

Here it is: Your magpie friend flies towards you, then flies at a very slow speed in a half-circle around you, about three metres away; then she stops:

Your magie friend flies around you in a J-shape

The slow flight speed is to make sure you see her and are not startled. Once Vicky did this at our waist height and landed on the ground, the other time she flew above our heads and landed on a branch of a nearby tree, but both times her approach and flight around us made a distinct "J" shape. Then your magpie will look back at you, and then look ahead.

The message? It means: "Follow me!"

When your magpie makes this pattern, speak kindly to her and thank her, and walk at normal speed in the direction your friend is pointing; do not walk towards your bird, walk the direction she is pointing. Stop when you are level with her.

Your friend will then fly some distance and wait for you; when you arrive (still walking parallel to her, not towards her), she will then fly a further distance, and so on, until you both arrive where she wants you to come.

Vicky and Bertie with this year's babies Shelley and Kelly
Vicky and Bertie with Shelley and Kelly

Vicky did this once with us when we went to look at her babies Rinky and Rosie. We got a few hundred metres away and became unsure whether she wanted us to come near. When we turned away, she did this maneuver to tell us it was okay to approach. She did it again this year when her latest babies first left the nest to invite us to come and visit.

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