Tag Archive | nature

A cleverness of magpies

There seem to be a number of collective nouns for magpies – a tiding, a murder, a tittering, a gulp – but to my mind it should be ‘a cleverness’. My observations suggest that magpies are the most intelligent of birds.

There are always two magpies living around my house and I see a lot of them. They strut about the adjacent field seeking insects for a lot of the day, but they are always keeping an eye on my garden for the appearance of any tasty titbits. Any peanuts spilled while filling the nut feeders are usually down the magpies’ gullets within minutes, and if they can get at the peanut feeders they will thrust their beaks at them until they succeed in extracting some tasty morsels. They cackle and screech at each other and at who knows what else – sometimes they just seem to be cackling to themselves. If it rains the pair of them are certain to be found at some point sheltering under the ‘roof’ of the bird house. No other bird does this; not even the carrion crows. I have seen a magpie catch a mouse in my garden and I have seen the pair of them attacking an injured woodpecker. I am also suspicious that it was the magpies that pulled up every one of the runner beans that I grew from seed in the ground one year, just for fun. One actually came into my kitchen one summer afternoon and attacked the soap, obviously thinking it might be edible! It started to panic when I went in there so I just talked to it quietly and pointed to the open window. It calmed down and hopped on out.

So, while many people do not find them very appealing, primarily because of their apparent ‘cruelty’ such as in their attack on the woodpecker (which is of course purely instinct on the bird’s part), it is no wonder they are such survivors as they are surely among the brightest of birds.

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Owls, squirrels and deer

There must be a huge owl population where I live. When I first moved into the country I couldn’t help associating the eerie calls with all the scary films I’ve seen over the years, and even now when there are so many calls it can seem quite strange. Despite hearing them constantly though, I rarely see them (for obvious reasons). Now that it’s spring I can expect to hear quite a few night calls that are not simply ‘hoots’. One bird (it must be a bird!) screeches endlessly. I think it’s also an owl, but it’s much more annoying than the ‘hooting’ one. There are also sometimes animal calls, such as the barks of foxes (there are no dogs anywhere nearby) and the grunts of deer. During the rut, which takes place in October, there are some very peculiar deer sounds to be heard!

As for my little friends the Greater Fleabag Squirrels, they have obviously been breeding as there are quite a few young ones around. They haven’t yet attached themselves to the peanut feeders or eaten my primulas but they do seem to be getting quite hungry. They will probably eat half the flowers off my deutsia shrub before the buds get the chance to open, and today there was one eating lichen off the sandstone of the house. I used to think they were licking salt when they did this but now I definitely think it’s lichen they’re nibbling at. No sign of fleas on me yet, but the squirrels themselves are certainly scratching a lot.

I see a lot more of the deer at this time of year, although even more in autumn when the horse chestnuts (conkers) fall. Right now they’re just quartering beneath the horse chestnuts looking for bits of tasty fallen leaves to eat.