Monday, 17 August 2009

Beautiful Birds (13): Magpies - two for joy, twenty for...?

One for sorrow, two for joy...
Nineteen for ???

We were just enjoying a cup of coffee when we realized that there was a racket going on around us. It was a tiding, a gulp, a charm or perhaps a murder of magpies - depending, of course, on your point of view. Collective nouns can be such fun!

We often see magpies around our area; and although they make enough noise for ten, there are usually only three or four to be seen. Why, I wonder, were we suddenly surrounded by so many? Was it just one of those things - or can we blame the weather?

I began to wonder about the origin of the word, 'magpie', and whether the 'pie' bit was related to the word 'pied' (see also: piebald).

'Pied Beauty' by Gerard Manley Hopkins has long been a favourite poem of mine... not forgetting, of course, 'The Pied Piper'.

It seems, however, that the 'pie' bit actually comes from the Latin name, pica pica, which means 'a craving for something not normally regarded as of nutritional value', or in the specific case of the magpie, a bird who gleans all sorts of odd bits and pieces for its nest.

Has anyone else experienced a murder of magpies this evening? Do let me know.


Matt Merritt said...

It's interesting that, although the name is related to the noise it makes, it isn't onomatopoeic, like the names of almost all the other British crows. Raven (from 'hrafn', crow, rook, chough, jack(daw) are all supposed to be imitative of the birds' calls.

You often get larger than usual gatherings of corvids at this time of year, because extended family groupings tend to stay together, and because unattached young birds also group together. Plus, they're in moult about now (you see a lot of magpies with shorter than usual tails), so with their mobility potentially affected there's all the more reason to go for safety in numbers.

I love corvids, personally. They get a bad name, but all the scientific evidence shows that prey species thrive where they do - the loss of young songbirds is effectively factored into nature's calculations.

poefusion said...

I can't get over how many are there. They're cute though. Your poem Waves was really good. Have a great night~

steven said...

hello caroline, thanks for this posting. the links were fascinating as i have heard bits of that rhyme but not seen the whole piece. isn't there a poem somewhat similar for crows? steven

Nature Rambles said...

I've always been fascinated by collective nouns too! You reminded of how interesting it was to discover( nearly 40 years ago) that it was a convocation of eagles or a parliament of owls!! It's usually a murder of crows that I see around here. Perhaps when I go out of the region I might get to see a sight like the one in your photos! So many of them!

BTW, the poem is an all time favourite of mine.