Posted: Wednesday 8 October 2014
by Richard Jones

The altercation on the other side of the hedge was loud enough to make us stop talking and go and have a look.

The altercation on the other side of the hedge was loud enough to make us stop talking and go and have a look. Thankfully it wasn't a gang of local youths having a rumble. It was a gang of local magpies having an earnest discussion about scavenging rights.

I like these handsome, glossy birds and always stop to admire them when I see a band of them hop-skip-flap-sidling about on the lawn. They’re more likely to be gathered into unruly groups at this time of year, with numbers varying according to whatever doggerel lines you care to mumble. During spring they set themselves up in pairs (for joy, obviously) and can be fiercely territorial, but like many other bird species they now gather together in bands (not flocks, though) to find safety in numbers, perhaps, or to maximise autumn foraging success.

In the neighbours’ garden there were three (for a boy), but they were making enough noise for at least five (for silver) and maybe six (for gold). I have seen them in much larger numbers. The old rhyme that I knew (that kids’ TV series from the 1970s) runs out at 8 (a wish), 9 (a kiss) and 10: 'a bird you must not miss' - whatever that might mean. I’m sure it’s time we updated this ditty to take into account modern prophecy possibilities. Perhaps 11 can be a new phone, 12 a payday loan, 13 a fast broadband connection, 14 a winning lottery selection, 15’s a PPI rebate, 16’s a blind date. I’ll stop now, before this starts getting silly. (Starts?!)

I had a quick look at Wikipedia but was singularly unimpressed by the magpie collective nouns listed there: 'charm' (finches, surely?), 'congregation' (too vague), 'gulp' (only cormorants, I think), 'murder' (crows, really), 'tiding' (ridiculously polite), 'tittering' (they’re obviously not listening to what 'pies actually say). No, I think we’ve got to start again on this one too.

So, a group of magpies? I’m going to go back to my earlier over-hedge nosiness and run with the street-fighting youths analogy. A 'rumble'? I’m open to further suggestions, of course. 

Thanks to Paul Chesterfield/RSPB IMAGES for kind permission to use the beautiful image of the magpie.

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Talkback: Magpies
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oldchippy 09/10/2014 at 11:13

a squawk of Magpies.

BizzieB 09/10/2014 at 12:55

I hear hem high in trees near me, they sound as if the are clucking. Not the soft hen cluck, but a deeper cluck. Always know they are there by that sound.

oldchippy 09/10/2014 at 15:20

A Squadron of Magpies.

Hostafan1 09/10/2014 at 18:54

a nest robbing, chick murdering, pain in the neck of magpies??

philippa smith2 09/10/2014 at 19:15

That'll be a Cat then..........?  

A Chatter of Magpies surely ?

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