Breaking Through The Communication Barrier With Birds

I would have loved to read the magpies’ thoughts and know what they were thinking: was I a kidnapper? Or a partner in crime of the guy who took their baby away? Or… was there a chance that they had understood? I had shown them the chick in the box, calm and curious. They had observed closely and still.
recused magpie chick
That was the first of the “chicks shower”. In a few days, another chick rained down, it was rescued by Ruggi again, but that one had a broken leg. Again, I put it in a cage, but the leg hurt, so I kept it in my t shirt and talked to it. It looked at me curiously, calmed down. I had always wondered what was happening in that little, intelligent mind while it was looking at me and listening to my voice, under my warm hand. Again, the relatives seemed to accept it in some way, also when it went to keep company to its sibling (unfortunately, this one didn’t survive, whereas the first one was fine).
One very early morning I was woken up by a terrible shouting of the magpies. “Another one!” I thought, while half-asleep I tried to wear my slippers and ran out in my nightdress. This time, the chick had a very sharp mind and quick response to danger. It had hidden somewhere. “Ruggi, please” I begged him “help me find another one, won’t you?”  Ruggero started his rounds, while the other cats didn’t look so interested – thank goodness!
The magpies shouted at the top of their voices. The cats started to alert. Suddenly I had an amazing scene: while the mother was trying to check the chick in the nest and attract the cats’ and crow’s attention on her, the father had landed in the garden, walking bravely among the cats, looking carefully in all directions for his baby! I felt proud of him. He didn’t know that the cats were lazy bird hunters but the girls; in fact, Topolina’s sister was pointing at him, moving her back the way cats do just before attacking!
I shouted to the cats, the magpie flew to a low branch together with his wife, always yelling (our neighbours said they wanted to pull their necks): finally, Ruggero had found the fledging! It didn’t want to cooperate at all: the more we tried to get it, the more it struggled and found more bushes and branches to become invisible and impossible to be caught. In the end we got it: it struggled in my hands, but it calmed down afterwards, like his siblings had done, looking at me with its glittering questioning black eye.
I didn’t call the association, also because the second chick had died anyway: I wanted to give this one a chance to live with its relatives a true magpie life. So, I put it on a high branch, as high as I could, telling it mum and dad were coming, to stay there and to not mess up things. It listened to me carefully. Then, as soon as I moved away, it took off and flew to a neighbour’s garden on a high pine! The relatives followed noisily. All the noise had attracted more visitors: a stray cat that was wandering and the male crow. The last chick peeped desperately in its nest, left alone and forgotten.
 I thought that the magpies were acting bravely but stupidly. As if the mother had perceived my thought, she came back to check the one in the nest. She went back and forth all the time, to reassure the one here and the other there. All the father’s attention was for the fugitive: he realized of the stray cat too, trying to get its attention.
But the King of Crows was outraged by that insolent, noisy magpie: he descended to destroy him and his family. His black wings fell on the father, and a cruel fight began. I started to cry without realizing it, looking at the many black and white beautiful feathers that were ripped and torn, and how the proud creature held on with all his might and fury to protect his child. The mother joined the fight, forgetting the chick in the nest. The crow was so big and strong and that time his partner joined the struggle.
I thought the magpies were about to die. I couldn’t do anything to help, but thinking of the chick in the nest. It was very alarmed and in panic, and his cries got louder and louder. He hadn’t eaten for many hours: hunger and thirst made him try a desperate effort to reach his relatives. I spent the day listening to the war and pain cries of the magpies and crows, the call for help of the chicks. Then, to worsen the situation even more, a terrible storm beat down on everyone, and the chicks cries ceased after a while. Only a hissing, cold wind and the thunders and the adult magpies were audible in the late night.
The day after, my sister was called by the neighbour to pick up the wrecked body of a magpie chick. It was the one I had helped, wishing it a happy life. Its relatives were alive, after the terrible fight and the storm, and chattered loudly in alarm. They were too excited, I thought. Maybe, oh, maybe, there was a live baby left? In the heavy rain I couldn’t see nothing. Once again, I could only sit and wait.
Finally the sun shone again, and the magpies came to pick up peanuts with the last chick! My heart was singing, and it was the first time after Émile’s loss. Laughing, singing… something new, something alive inside me, thanks to the cats and the magpies, in spite of the sorrow I felt for my lifelong companion and support.
The adult magpies disappeared in the hot summer, but the chick stayed: it came to pick up food. It was very scared, silent and shy. I had the feeling it was a female. Only at night, sometimes it woke up and felt alone: so, it started calling “Chak chak chak!” and I answered. A magpie with nightmares… why not? If they are so intelligent they can surely dream, love, feel like us. Only because they have wings instead of arms, a different structure and plumage instead of hair, they don’t talk like us and don’t act like us, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t feelings and self-conscience. Birds that are able to recognize themselves and others in mirrors can do much more.*
Last summer a pair of magpies arrived to us with five chicks, all good fliers. They were very beautiful, especially one, with very long tail feathers, glittering with emerald green, violet and velvet blue shade of colours; its eyes very big with long lashes. I have never seen such a beautiful magpie in my whole life! I thought it could have been a male, because of the long tail and the marking moves and voice. Its siblings were more cautious, but that one wanted to enter our house, to play with everything, it was always there. In my heart I hoped that those young magpies were the previous pair’s offspring, or at least the chick’s… very unluckily this magpie was attacked by crows that didn’t like its bold attitude, and it was put to sleep having its back broken. Its siblings remained together and survived, led by one that stops on our magnolia tree and chats for long, together with the other ones. Now we are in November, and they are all together, alive and kicking, four beautiful, healthy, happy and joyful magpies ready to start a new adventure. Every time I leave or go out there’s always a “chak!” greeting me somewhere!
To the people that ask me why I take so much care of animals instead of children, I answer that there are suffering children in the world, but there are even more suffering creatures that don’t live far from us, but are close to us, and we pretend to not see them. I try to do a little for everybody: according to my philosophy, I care for poor children, but more for poor old people that are forgotten by everybody, including their children, but animals; and most of all I do I do it for our furry and feathered friends, because they are my best and, sometimes, only friends, the ones that console me and keep me company; animals don’t stop eating and then leave; they stay because they want to.
Furthermore, the ones that are taken by surprise by tales of cats that put their bonbons in your coffee or bring you a blanket, or magpies that bring you roses or glittering stones are the ones who have never looked for it. Because if you give a magpie, a cat, a porcupine, a collar dove, a tit or a crow – whatever animal it may be – the chance of a friendship, it will be a wonderful experience.
The European Magpie is one of the few animal species known to be able to recognize itself in a mirror testMirror self-recognition has been demonstrated in European magpies.[3] The magpie is thus one of a small number of species, and the only non-mammal, known to possess this capability




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