And then the rain came. For days and days, it rained. Heavy downpours drenched everything around us.
And the birds stayed hidden in the thick foliage of the largest trees.
One very early morning, when it looked like the rain might ease, through the back door I saw two very wet and bedraggled magpies: an adult and a baby. They were on the veranda, looking through the glass at me and making sad little imitations of what is usually a beautiful warble.
It was then that I realised because I hadn’t seen them for quite a few days, perhaps they were hungry—because I had made a habit of feeding them a little each day.
The magpie feeding started gradually. Some mornings, when I sat outside eating breakfast, a magpie stopped by and I gave him a small piece from the edge of my toast. After a few days, another magpie came. They seemed friendly and often settled close by, waiting for scraps of toast.
I knew that bread wasn’t a good substitute for foraged-for food, so I didn’t give them too much.
Then a relative suggested a good muesli might be a better idea. But they weren’t so keen on that. Researching magpie food suggestions, I discovered that (if it was top quality) minced meat was a favourite.
Minced steak? They loved it! The magpie family came to spend (musical) hours on my back veranda. Waiting and watching. They stayed so long that every piece of outdoor furniture ended up with streaks of bird-dropping decorations.
Sometimes the magpies collected a small wad of mince in their beaks and flew away into the tall gum tree over the back fence. I should have known!
Next thing, they brought their whingeing baby along and, as he squawked, they filled his wide-open beak…over and over again.
Now I had three magpies, all wanting food. They loved the meat! They followed me when I was outside. They watched me through the kitchen window and became excited when they saw me go towards the fridge. If I left the back door open, I would often find a magpie walking around the kitchen.
It was getting out if hand!
But then, some more (Google) research led me to believe that minced steak should NOT be given to magpies—especially young magpies.
What to do?
A little more searching revealed a recipe suitable for magpie food. A recipe!
This involved: tinned puppy food, wheat germ, baby cereal, bird seed (for wild birds), chopped parsley, hard- boiled egg and something called calcium carbonate (which I think is carb soda – but I didn’t include that).
After a trip to the supermarket, I made up a mixture and rolled it into small sausage shapes, some of which I froze.
The next day I sensed a disappointment in the magpies’ demeanour. They were not impressed with the new diet.
But, for the magpies’ health I would no longer feed them mince. I sprinkled more wild bird seed mix over the sausage thing and there was a bit of interest.
Days went by. The magpie family still visited but the mince-induced excitement and enthusiasm had evaporated.
I put the special food on a patch of grass near the veranda – with extra seed – and eventually my magpie family accepted that this was the food from me now.
Each day they came and ate what I put out for them. They still perched on the outdoor furniture, but not as often or for as long. I missed their singing.
The baby learned to eat by itself and all was well with my conscience about feeding wild birds.
The most interesting thing about the new feeding regime is that, once the magpies have had their fill of recipe-based food, the beautiful water dragons who live around us, come and finish off the scraps.
What could be better?
PS: The magpie in the photo is the baby.