Magpies in the garden

Posted: Friday 4 May 2012
by Kate Bradbury

This year there’s no Sid, no great tits and no blue tits. Just one fat magpie.

Magpie, photo taken by Steve Round, courtesy of RSPB Images

My garden is so small that sometimes I feel like it’s a sort of toy garden – a bite-sized model of what real, grown-up gardens should be. Everthing in it is also bite-sized, from the tiny shed with its bijou green roof, the miniature log pile, the pathetic excuse for a tree and my postage-stamp lawn.

The number of birds visiting the garden also seems to correspond to its size. Last year the garden was taken over by one blackbird, Sid, while a pair of great tits and a blue tit braved Sid’s hostility to gather caterpillars for their young.

This year there’s no Sid, no great tits and no blue tits. Just one fat magpie.

I don’t mind magpies. As Simon Barnes says in his book, How to be a Bad Birdwatcher, they’re just very good at being magpies. My first experience of them was as a child, after I’d been given some frogspawn to raise into frogs. My sister and I weren’t very good at looking after it – we kept it in a shallow dish of water outside the backdoor, without any shelter for the emerging tadpoles to hide. So when they did hatch, a magpie came and ate them all. I was devastated.

But this magpie likes grapes. It’s very reserved - there's a pile of them in the border, which my partner threw out two weeks ago ("for the birds"). Old Mags pops in every day and takes one. (It obviously likes the grapes, so why not snaffle the lot?) It eats caterpillars, snails, lawn grubs and aphids. I watched it this morning, hopping about the garden snatching at food. It stands on the bird box surveying the bijou green roof, then pounces, taking its prey to the postage-stamp lawn. It pulls aphids off the hebe. And then it takes a grape.

I’ve become quite fond of our fat magpie. Even though I know it's probably responsible for the two broken blue tit eggs we found in the garden last year, and the absence of great tits, or any other bird in the garden this year. But that’s nature. That’s magpies.

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oldchippy 04/05/2012 at 16:04

The Thieving Magpie,It most probably think's your grapes are gem stones and is taking them back to it's nest,Sid the blackbird is still singing early in the morning,You can have him back any time thank you.


backyardee 06/05/2012 at 08:15

I have a couple of families of magpies living around the plot. They take on average a coiuple of hen eggs a week which they go in the hen house to thieve, but they have also taken the odd chick before now, but then so have the jackdaws. Can't net the chicken run as it is too big. So I have to live and let live, until they get too many. 

happymarion 06/05/2012 at 14:40

Nil desperandum, Kate. Your magpie is obviously a drinker and is sampling the grapes for strength of fermentation. When it is to his liking he will imbibe a bit too much and go off and find himself a mate. Your garden will be too small for the pair of them and back will come your small birds. Awww, everyone deserves to have a robin for company in their garden.

Wildman of Pershore 07/05/2012 at 16:13

Bless them, they're like little velociraptors!

I don't often see my resident pair - just when they come for a bit of breakfast. They're banished by Quentin the carrion crow who torments him whenever he sees them but they manage to function in their territory.

I have ravens, rooks, jackdaws and jays here too and a very healthy song bird population including yellowhammers and reed buntings so they don't have any negative impact that I've noticed. A nice balanced ecosystem without much interference from anyone's free-roaming furry pets.

Happymarion, my country robins are very shy but I do have swans and geese for company! Luckily they don't know how to get in to help me with the gardening..

Lorraine Willis2 10/05/2012 at 10:33

We have 8 magpies often gather together in our garden - beautiful to look at but very sinister. Also 2 pairs of nesting blackbirds. Did have great tits again in bird box but female blackbird attacked them and they've moved elsewhere. Also have Dunnocks nesting and occasional visit from wren, and a few goldfinch.

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