Magpies are not my favorite bird.
They’re striking with vivid blue-black and white plumage.
But they’re also loud, annoying predators. I’ve had to rescue baby robins from them. I’m forever shooing them from the peanuts I set out for the squirrels. At a safe distance, they watch me through the sliding glass door and, as soon as I walk away, they swoop down to steal a nut. Then they perch on the fence calling, “Hey, human! Neener, neener, neener!”
While I’m normally a critter lover, magpies never make me feel warm and fuzzy.
Well, almost never.
Our patio garden is surrounded by a tall, solid-wood fence. This morning, I heard that distinctive, fingernails-on-the-blackboard squawking, answered by a slightly less raucous chirping. More squawking, more chirping.
I looked through the glass door.
An adult magpie was perched atop the fence. Hopping around on the ground below was a smaller bird with much shorter tailfeathers.
A baby magpie.
Mom would caw three times then watch Junior who chirped back. Junior flapped its wings but had not yet mastered the fine art of flying. Mostly, it hopped along the bottom of the fence line.
I figured Junior must have fallen from a nearby nest. Mom probably brought Junior under the fence to what she thought was a safe place for solo flight training. Or maybe ground school.
From time to time, Mom sailed down to the lawn and hopped around with Junior. Then she’d fly back up to the top of the fence, calling: “C’mon, flap those wings, kid! Flap, flap, flap!”
Junior meanwhile skittered on the ground and protested: “Ma, don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave me!”
Sometimes Mom flew away, watching from the roof or a nearby tree where Junior couldn’t see her. From a distance, she repeated her encouragement: “Come on, kid! Flap, flap, flap!”
With a mighty effort, Junior managed to rise enough to reach the lowest crossbar of the fence, about eight inches off the ground. Then back down on the lawn and more frenzied scurries, looking for an opening large enough to slip through.
Repeat several times. Up eight inches. Back down again. Up. Down. No progress.
Once Junior thought it had found an exit and tried to squeeze through a gap under the fence. But, at the same time, it madly flapped its wings, which made it too large to escape through the small opening.
Reminded me of a dog with long stick in his mouth trying to get through a doorway.
Mom came back and landed on the ground next to the relieved chick. More encouraging caws, more flapping but still no lift-off.
Mom took off again, leaving Junior in a panic, even though she continued to call from afar. More hopping back and forth along the bottom of the fence line. Lots of distressed chirping.
Finally, Junior found a gap large enough to scoot through and disappeared.
The squawks and chirps faded away.
If the little magpie survives to master flight, I suspect Mom will bring Junior back to teach it how to bedevil me by stealing the nuts I set out for the squirrels, then smirking at me from atop the fence.
“Hey, kid, say neener, neener, neener to the human. Good job!”
But, for a few minutes this morning, the scared but valiant little black-and-white chick turned me warm and fuzzy about a magpie.