Several little gray birds arrived in my yard this week. They were the size of finches and immediately started pecking at the scraggly lawn. I watched from the bathroom window, fairly elated. When the lawn was three-feet high and the grass was dewy in the mornings, I noticed slugs on the top of the grass blades.
“Go get ’em,” I silently cheered to the birds. “Eat, be plump, be happy.”
Within seconds, an adult magpie hopped into the center of the lawn, taking a strong stance as if she owned the entire block. She found something larger than a slug, and slurped it down, then chirped in a mean, motherly way.
Several more baby birds popped out from behind the Virginia creeper vine.
The breakfast party was on.
Another adult landed like a gymnast, solid on its feet and with a sense of achievement. Soon another big bird arrived, and another. I guessed these were the males because they pecked at each other in a none-so-playful way.
My next thought was, “Oh no. My cat!”
You know how cats are. If you walk by in your bathrobe a cat will instinctively swat at the tie of the rope twisted around your waist. You can accidentally move a pebble while you’re walking and the cat will go into a full charge.
The birds in my yard looked tough. They had a family. My Feline Unit would be no match.
I know from experience.
When I first moved into my house I heard a loud ruckus in the yard. It sounded like the birds were screaming. We rushed outside and saw the cat, cowering under the hedge. These were scrub jays that day, another bird with an attitude. If birds had hands, these scrub jays would have had their hands raised in fists.
Other jays were coming into the yard to join mass beating of my cat.
For good reason.
The Feline Unit was inches away from a baby jay. She looked scared. The birds were moving closer, and did I mention the squawking?
I took the cat inside and the Handsome Woodsman took the baby jay to a hedge partway down the alley. The noise stopped.
I can only imagine what these four stout magpies would do to defend their tiding*, which now included about 10 birds happy to be ridding my lawn of slugs.
If you don’t know magpies, http://tinyurl.com/yb56wlqq, we have the yellow-billed birds around here. They have white bellies and black heads and wings.
The cartoon birds Heckle and Jeckle are magpies.
In real life, the birds are omnivores and mostly eat bugs, grasshoppers in particular. They’ll also go after raw meat, fruit and acorns in the fall. (I looked this all up online. Normally I know nothing about magpies).
This is the first time I’ve spotted magpies in the yard. I’m hoping they scared away the scrub jays. In my drives around town I have spotted these beefy birds closer to the orchards, out near Fifth Avenue toward the river.
Magpies are members of the Corvid family, which also includes crows, ravens, rooks and jays. I’d group these all among the toughest birds found in backyards.
(*Tiding, by the way, is what you call a group of magpies.)
Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking can be contacted at email@example.com.