Suddenly, I realise it is warbling to me.
I’ve warbled to magpies since my teenage years when my brother raised injured youngsters and they would become honorary family members until they were ready to leave us. I know I have a distinct and unmelodic call, petering out somewhat at the end. It took me years to realise that the large home-group of magpies who live in the surrounding bush, (and the garden), have actually adapted their song when they call to me. They use this call when they want my attention.
One day my daughter and I were outside enjoying a tea-break when they began warbling. There were four or five magpies walking across the grass hunting for grubs and worms. My daughter poked her head from around her notebook screen.
‘They’re calling to you, you know that?’
Feeling pleased with myself, I answered their call.
‘Rank amateur,’ she said, emerging once more from behind the screen and grinning.
I stuck my nose in the air. ‘They understand me!’
Apparently, they did. One large bird answered my call exactly – using all my imperfections and intonations. They also mimic my call when they want to talk to me. It’s become a bit of a family joke now.
The magpies sing at several different times during the day. Predictably they sing at dawn and evening. They will warble lazily during the day and most annoyingly at around two in the afternoon on a summer’s day. Of course, there’s a special spot for that – just outside my bedroom window. And yes, I am fond of an afternoon nap in the summer, what with late nights and very early rising. They warble at night during the week of the full moon. This can be frustrating in summer with the combination of heat and moonlight and broken sleep.
They also get together in a large group, usually on the north side of my house where the laneway is. They gather a few times every year to sing and squawk with raised wings and hunched backs as if they are sorting out their differences in a magpie council.