Early spring and the nesting season upon them, two male magpies decided that predatory creatures such as we are, we must be a threat. A neighbour is targeted too when she goes for a Monday morning walk with June – swooped upon, squawked at, beak-clacked as soon as they get within a hundred metres of the magpie nests in big old willow trees growing in a water catchment just up the road from our place.
That hundred metre or so home territory includes paddocks east of the shelter belt that runs down the middle of our property – goat paddocks at the top end and cattle ones below. So, June’s harassed by the one that patrols the top paddocks and I’m harassed by the one that patrols lower down!
We’ve also got three or four pairs nesting in old man pines that are less than fifty metres west of our house, and like nine out of ten magpies, they don’t appear to behave any differently towards us during the nesting season and fly away if we get too close. Obviously, they don’t perceive us as a threat and may well be able to recognize our familiar faces; magpies, intelligent creatures that they are, have been shown to have facial recognition abilities.
Live and let live is a good motto to live by most of the time. That’s certainly how we view all those magnificent flute-noted magpies that live round here in peaceful co-existence with humans. But those two males were disturbing our peace whenever we ventured into their expansive home territory: dive bombs accompanied by squawks and beak snaps close to your ear; horizontal planing on a collision course towards your face, only veering away at the last minute.
I’d be fair game for however long I was out there – moving the cows, sorting out gates, fences, and water. The male patrolling the area would keep at me – swoop, fly and perch briefly in a gum to the rear of me or a poplar in front, swoop again.
What kept me most on edge? Being on your guard all the time and how that detracted from the satisfaction you’d normally get from being out and about in springtime.
The upshot of all this came about after June told her walking companion that I needed a shotgun. After making sure I had a gun licence, her son lent me his. He’d walked over with it and given it to June who was planting a few natives near the road gate. He told her that one had whooshed above his head, beak clapping, and he’d shot it when it went back to a willow tree.
No more cow paddock vigilante, but I fully expected to have to shoot his goat paddock buddy. Over several days, I did a slow, methodical reconnoitre of the goat and cow areas – not a magpie to be seen! “Curiouser and curiouser!” as Alice in Wonderland said.
Was it coincidence? Shooting one would’ve come at about the time that the young magpies would have been fledged after three weeks in the egg and three weeks fed by both parents while still in the nest. And males have been known to ease off on nest protection duties at that time. But not always, because the young birds are still very reliant on the parents for a further two months.
I’d noticed that the magpie that patrolled the goat area had, coming up to the six-week mark, throttled back – my guess is that he would have stopped harassing us then anyway. Whereas the other one was still as full-on as ever and would probably have whooshed, screeched and beak-clacked until the fully fledged young that had survived (usually only two of the three to five that hatch), took off.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.