A Witness to a Murder

A puzzle for Sherlock Holmes

This post is not about art.   It is about a very odd experience I had the other week.  I think I was a witness to a murder.  Where I work has extensive private grounds.   At the back of the building is a huge lawn.  The time was between 9 and 10 PM and I was attending to some paperwork when I got up to have a bit of a stretch, and happened to glance out of the window.

Outside I saw the most amazing spectacle – the entire lawn was covered in Magpies!  I have never seen so many Magpies in one place at the same time.  At first I thought that they could have been mating, but when I looked more closely they seemed to be in little groups: scuffles were breaking out here and there.

Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds' film 1963

They would run together in packs quickly away from their agressors or take  flight.  It was obvious they were in small teams the way they kept togeher when they ran or flew in formation.  I watched this for some time.  They mostly walked, talked chased and one would peck at another.  After a while, I got back to what I was doing.  But when I looked again about half an hour later, the lawn was bare!  I could have kicked myself afterwards – why didn’t I get a picture on my phone?  I don’t know –  it just didn’t occur to me.  I suppose I was just too puzzled and stunned by the spectacle and by the time that it did – they had all disappeared.  Another strange thing was that there were no dead bodies behind, not a scrap of evidence!

I have combed the internet trying to throw some light on this and the nearest I can come up with is that this meeting was territorial – a kind of ‘turf’ war:).  If so, I don’t know who won.  The only thing I know is that it is one of the oddest things I have ever seen, and I do know that among other collective nouns, ‘A murder’ of  Magpies is what I witnessed!

Magpie pic from here, fablulous Sherlock Holmes image here, The Birds here

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8 Responses to “A Witness to a Murder”

  1. Well, it certainly seems a mystery. I even went to the Cornell bird site to see if I could find out anything about this behavior.I had a similar experience with starlings last winter and looked them up. The site said that they, starlings often travel in large groups.They came to feed, for days on the fruit of my flowering pear trees. Hope the magpies weren’t feasting on other species’ young.Yuck. The site said they relish ticks. Thank-you for an interesting post, Lynda.

    • Thanks Leslie, I’ve never seen so many of them, it was quite scarey really, like something out of ‘The Birds’.. No, they didn’t seem to be eating anything, – plus no dead bodies left around. Well, one good thing has come out of it – we both now know more about magpies and their habits than we did do before:) I was reading that the Australian ones swoop and attack people!

      • The sightI visited said they are very social birds with one another and people and our pets. Theyhave done studies, also, and a magpie can recognize itself in the mirror. They put a yellow mark on their chest and show the bird itself in a mirror and a magpie will try to clean the stain off its own chest. Thank-you again for an interesting post. 🙂

  2. Thanks Leslie, they’re quite interesting birds aren’t they? It must have been a social event or a Magpie convention I witnessed then:) Perhaps a couple of the little fellows had one too many worms and started fighting lol!
    But, I have since noticed a strange thing and that is there doesn’t seem as many as usual. I wonder if they were on their way somewhere and stopped for a rest…..
    Perhaps they stopped by to visit fellow magpies on their way to hotter climes lol!

  3. artistatexit0 Says:

    Would have loved to see this scene…had me going with the “murder” suggestion, but nice catch equating that with magpies. They do seem to be among our smarter birds and will seemingly puzzle out problems and solve them. Living in Europe, the most magpies I have ever seen in one go was less than a dozen.

  4. Me too Al, the most I’ve ever seen is about 4 or five. Very strange indeed. The Australian ones seem really agressive from what I’ve been reading. Swooping and attacking people, it’s terrifying1 Read this, one of many reports
    http://www.abc.net.au/science/scribblygum/July2002/

  5. hi lynda,

    nature can be ferociously dangerous, such in the case of magpies attacking people. in a way, maybe, it’s really a reckoning, for humans are destroying their natural habitat, and we compete with the remaining spaces that is supposed to be reserved for wildlife.

    just a thought.

  6. Thanks Marvin, it is indeed something to think about ! Nature bites back:) Those birds are so big too! Perhaps we are getting a taste of our own medicine….

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