Between our back garden and the neighbours’, we have a tall fence covered in densely growing winter jasmine. Hearing a loud jabberwockery the other day, I looked out and saw a mighty magpie viciously attacking something in the twiggy mass. It was joined by a second (oh good, two for joy!) and the two of them savagely thrust beaks and claws into the jasmine, vigorously pulling out lengths of stems and snapping them off.
Were they collecting nesting material? But if so, why not just take the dead shoots instead of breaking off living ones? Was their thousand-volt attack aimed at some poor quivering creature hiding in the foliage? I shuddered at the thought of the power behind those vorpal beaks, and certainly would not want to be a mouse or small bird on the receiving end. After some time the second one flew away, and the original bird followed.
I went out to see what had caused this outburst of apparent yobbery. The fence is 6 feet high on the neighbour’s side, but our land is lower so the top is 7 feet up on our side, and I had to reach as high as I could to look into the bush. Yes, there was something there: a dark shape, something hard, not – thank God! – a creature, either alive or dead. I reached in and with a bit of effort pulled it out.
It was the remains of a computer keyboard minus most of the keycaps, what I believe is called the keyswitch membrane. How it got there is a mystery. We’ve had some very strong winds lately, so probably it was blown there from someone’s rubbish. Why were the magpies so incensed by it?
We all know that magpies are attracted by shiny things although latest research suggests that they are frightened of them.
Whether it was fear or desire firing our pair, I don’t know. Magpies, like all corvidae, are highly intelligent birds, but who can tell what was going on in their birdy heads? Were they trying to kill it? Or is a computer keyboard the latest status symbol for the yuppy magpie nest, preparing the nestlings for life in the age of social media from the moment they are hatched? Pick and peck system of typing, of course; you couldn’t expect them to learn to touch type and they don’t have thumbs. It might also have made a good rainproof roof for the nest: shiny side outside, naturally, to impress less affluent birds.
Magpies get a bad press, and they are blessed with a very raucous voice, but I have to confess to my admiration for these extremely clever and beautiful creatures, with their proud tail and iridescent green-blue-purple feathers. They are truly gorgeous to look at close up. But I was also shocked at the vigour and violence of their attack.
I was tempted to leave the keyboard out in the garden for them and watch what they did with it, but my ecological instincts prevailed and I regretfully put it in the recycling bin instead. After all, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the first computer-literate clutch of pica pica.