Magpies





Wide-spread is the superstition that it is unlucky to see magpies under

certain conditions, but these vary considerably in different localities.

Thus, in some counties, two bring sorrow, in others joy; while, in some

places, we are instructed that one magpie is a signal of misfortune,

which can, however, be obviated by pulling off your hat, and making a

very polite bow to the knowing bird. This operation I have more than

once seen quite seriously performed. In Lancashire they say:



One for anger,

Two for mirth,

Three for a wedding,

Four for a birth,

Five for rich,

Six for poor,

Seven for a witch,

I can tell you no more.



But in Tim Bobbin it is expressly said that two are indicative of ill

fortune: "I saigh two rott'n pynots, hongum, that wur a sign o' bad

fashin; for I heard my gronny say hoode os leef o seen two owd harries

os two pynots." The same belief obtains in Scotland. In the North they

thus address the bird:



Magpie, magpie, chatter and flee,

Turn up thy tail, and good luck fall me.



The half-nest of the magpie is accounted for by a rural ornithological

legend. Once on a time, when the world was very young, the magpie, by

some accident or another, although she was quite as cunning as she is at

present, was the only bird that was unable to build a nest. In this

perplexity, she applied to the other members of the feathered race, who

kindly undertook to instruct her. So, on a day appointed, they assembled

for that purpose, and, the materials having been collected, the

blackbird said, "Place that stick there," suiting the action to the

word, as she commenced the work. "Ah!" said the magpie, "I knew that

afore." The other birds followed with their suggestions, but to every

piece of advice, the magpie kept saying, "Ah! I knew that afore." At

length, when the birdal habitation was half-finished, the patience of

the company was fairly exhausted by the pertinacious conceit of the pye,

so they all left her with the united exclamation, "Well, Mistress Mag,

as you seem to know all about it, you may e'en finish the nest

yourself." Their resolution was obdurate and final, and to this day the

magpie exhibits the effects of partial instruction by her miserably

incomplete abode.



The magpie is always called Madge, and the Christian names given to

birds deserve a notice. Thus we have Jack Snipe, Jenny Wren, Jack Daw,

Tom Tit, Robin Redbreast, Poll Parrot, Jill Hooter, Jack Curlew, Jack

Nicker, and King Harry for the goldfinch, and the list might be widely

extended. A starling is always Jacob, a sparrow is Philip, a raven is

Ralph, and the consort of the Tom Tit rejoices in the euphonic name of

Betty! Children give the name of Dick to all small birds, which, in

nursery parlance, are universally Dickybirds.





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