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Befriending Magpies 101

A quick course in making the most of the birds that
may be our city’s greatest natural resource

One of the many, many, many magpies that call Edmonton home.  (Taylor Harrison)

By Taylor Harrison

THEY’RE EVERYWHERE: in the parks, on the streets, even in your online news site. Regardless of whether we like it, magpies are a fundamental part of  downtown life, taunting our dogs, screeching at us from the trees, and giving us baleful looks whenever we dare to enter their territory – especially if we’re carrying food.

Some people would even go so far as to say they’re pests.

However, it would be dishonest to just assume that the magpie is little more than a pigeon in a tuxedo. As a member of the corvidae family, the humble magpie is one of the most intelligent birds, if not one of the most intelligent animals, on Earth. They can recognize themselves in mirrors, can invent and use tools, and even recognize the faces of those who have wronged them.

Of course, this isn’t good news for gardeners, cats, cat owners, or anyone who doesn’t like squawking. No one wants to hear that they’re fighting an avian super-intelligence that is well on its way to the Stone Age in terms of tool use.

They are also uncomfortably familiar with the concept of revenge.

But there could be a solution. Instead of fighting the feathered fiends, why not befriend them? Not only will you be able to use your newfound mastery over birds to gain Internet fame, but you might even start receiving shiny trinkets for all your trouble.

Although deceptively convincing, this magpie is not a good choice to befriend, It is only graffiti.  (Taylor Harrison)

Here’s how to bond with the magpies … and start building a corvid army.

Know what you’re looking for: Magpies are medium black-and-white birds that are usually found roosting in trees or searching for food on the ground. If you hear something cawing in the middle of winter, then you’re definitely hearing a magpie: unlike their close relatives, the crows, magpies don’t migrate for the winter, instead choosing the questionable strategy of enjoying a wonderful Edmonton winter. The species of magpie native to Edmonton is one of the more social varieties, so it’s likely that you’ll see them in flocks around the city due to the abundance of food that our city provides (usually in the form of discarded fast food or household garbage).

Don’t arrive empty handed: If there’s one surefire way of getting any kind of animal to notice you, it has to be offering them food. But don’t go for the birdseed and breadcrumbs with magpies. They prefer heartier fare. Instead, try giving them something with high protein content, like those almonds that you bought in the hopes that they’d make for a healthy snack, but abandoned when you realized just how disappointing they taste.

Prepare to wait: For some reason, humans don’t have the best reputation among wild animals, so it might take some time before the magpies stop flying away whenever they see you. But corvids are well known for their long memories and their gossiping skills, so it shouldn’t take long before the magpies begin to recognize you as their food-delivery, and will hopefully begin to pay you back in trinkets and social visits.

With any luck, following these steps will help you achieve the feathered friendship of your dreams. Or you could just end up with a gang of squirrels terrorizing your property.

But hey, there’s no reward without a little bit of risk.

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