Magnus the magpie turned two in May, which is typically the age that magpies that magpies start breeding.
Although we refer to Magnus as a ‘he’ we weren’t totally sure of his gender. Magpie males and females are identical, meaning it’s very difficult to determine their sex.
In late April of this year, Magnus started to act a bit differently. He was louder, bolshier and would flap his wings in the way a juvenile maggy does when begging for food from its parents. He also spent a lot of time on one particular branch of a tree in his aviary, pecking around and generally fussing over the spot. Knowing that magpies build their nests in April/May time, we provided Magnus with sticks from which he could make a nest if he wanted to. He showed little interest in the sticks even when I played with them. A few days later, Ian my step father went into Magnus’s aviary and started to assemble the sticks to resemble a nest. Interestingly, Magnus took an interest then began to collect moss to jam in between the sticks. It was almost like he knew what he was doing, until the moss fell to the floor and he lost interest after a few minutes.
More days past and the strange behaviour continued.
Then, one morning, as I went about my morning routine of feeding the hens, I noticed that Magnus wasn’t heckling me from his usual spot. Normally he flies to the corner of his aviary to wish me a good morning, ask for food and chatter at any unusual item I may be carrying, such as a tupperware of leftovers. Instead, he was calling from somewhere else within the aviary and his position didn’t change. Sensing something was amiss, I skirted the aviary side to get a better look at where he could be. On the floor, next to a stump, I could see his tail sticking up at an angle from the ground and could just make out his head with his beak opening and closing as he squawked at me. Upon entering his aviary, he still didn’t move but continued to call. Now upon him, I could see he was sitting deep into a hollow on the floor. I knelt down and asked him “What the hell are you doing Magnus?” He stood up on his feet and looked down between his legs, then back at me like he was responding to my question. Underneath I could see 3 beautiful speckled blue eggs! I squealed with delight and shouted to Dave to come quickly.
“Magnus is a girl,” I shrieked as Dave approached the aviary. “She has three eggs!”
Dave joined me by Magnus’s side to get a look at the 3 gems she had been brooding. At this point, Magnus hoped onto Dave’s knee and squeaked enthusiastically. Dave touched the eggs while Magnus watched him carefully. She didn’t seem to mind. When Dave retracted his arm, Magnus pecked his hand in way that didn’t quite hurt but was clearly a warning. She then hopped to me and did the same. We got the memo and decided to leave the aviary not wanting to upset her.
Magpies typically make a dome-shaped nest in trees or overgrown bushes; however, they have been known to nest on the ground. We were unaware of this fact until we researched it. Although Magnus has several trees and shrubs in her aviary, she mustn’t have approved of any of them!
Magus has, since being an adult, treated the three of us –Dave, Ian and I- quite differently. Her behaviour made us suspect Magnus is a she, even though we referred to her as male. It’s quite hard to explain the differences in behaviour towards each of us but it’s obvious that Magnus know I am female and both Ian and Dave are male. I even believe she knows that Dave and I are partnered. Magnus definitely prefers Ian’s company. She even lets him touch the eggs and clearly approves of it when he does as she makes gentle ‘cooing’ sounds. We do think that Magnus sees Ian as her partner.
Magnus has been sat on her eggs for a few weeks. We know they won’t hatch, but I feel it wouldn’t be right to remove them. If she saw us take them, we risk losing her trust. If she thinks something else, such as a predator has taken them, she may try to lay again. I’ve decided it will be best for her to realise they are not hatching so leave the nest on her own terms. If we had more time to plan, we could have sourced some captive bird eggs of a similar family which she could incubate then raise. That would have been lovely! Maybe next year.