It’s magical when you live somewhere long enough to develop relationships with the critters that share the country with you. I know that happens in the city—I’ve fed the possums in Fitzroy gardens and marvelled at the fish at Doctors Gully in Darwin but they’re fleeting romances compared to the relationships we have with the animals at home. We have a bird that has adopted us. She’s a magpie and in a fit of creativity we called her Maggie. Sometimes, I don’t realise how magnificent creatures are until I get to spend a few hours over a few days just watching them go about their business. Even the most humble and common magpie is a delight.
She—and I call her she because we have since day dot and my mate Doctor Barry tells me sexing magpies is like telling the guys from the girls at a transvestite’s convention and definitely not a job for an amateur—she just walked in the front door as we were putting the final touches to the floor eight years ago. She was flighty in those days and didn’t hang around for long. Over the years she has relaxed into our company and now takes food from our hands. She nests in a big Gippsland Grey gum on the side of the driveway and has had one or two chicks every spring we’ve been here. She doesn’t swoop us at all. She brings the chicks down to the house when they’re a few days out of the nest and some are friendly and some are not. None of the chicks eat out of our hands.
My bird book tells me that magpies are catholic to the extreme. That puzzles me. I know she can’t pray the rosary because she doesn’t have an opposing thumb like me. She’ll take the bread part of communion but wouldn’t be interested in the wine. When she comes in to share breakfast, she’ll give the most divine choral blessing you can imagine. Magpie song is magnificent pre-dawn and when it’s solo for an audience of one, it’s something else. Hail Mary.
Maggie epitomises the idea of a low maintenance wild pet. She’ll take a bit of bread or biscuit if you offer but she’ll never nag or snatch or eat enough to make herself ill. If you’re not home or don’t feed her, she attacks the local invertebrate population, many of which are pests. She has taken to dive-bombing the rosellas in the fruit trees and the vegie garden but won’t eat the fruit herself. The only drawback I’ve found with our friend Maggie is that her kids squawk like a mob of three-year-olds with party hooters. I’d never tell her that though, I value her company too much.