Piping Pollers

I refer, perhaps incorrectly, to an Australian variant of the Magpie. For yes, the birds have variants, just like the Batflu. Australian magpies are excellent flautists, who sing the most exquisite melodies, once they are let out of their cages. They are a knowing bird, which is to say, much smarter than the average scientist. This was recently discovered when they — the scientists — tried to fix tracking devices upon the birds. They had designed an ultra-light, high-tech, durable and reusable tracking device, with a comfortable and secure harness to attach to the backs of their captive magpies. These would broadcast the activities of the birds through a large range, whether or not they were ever recaptured.

The magpies, however, made their own plans. They did not want their wanderings spied upon, let alone their cognitive abilities, sexual characteristics, or dominance rankings. These eccentricities strike most animals as none of a scientific investigator’s business. Anyone who has met a magpie knows that he is a free bloody bird, who enjoys his piratical, thieving life, occasionally molesting but seldom molested.

Within momentsĀ of the first affixing, a leggy adult female without a tracker had stepped up, to try some experiments with her bill. She found an ingenious way to detach the unwanted device from one of her offspring. Within hours, a group of five had all worked out the complex procedure, and captive Australian magpies were once again as free as Canadian truckers on the open road.

Magpies are polite, or at least circumspect birds, who appear to be tame until approached. During their breeding season, however, they will swoop and engage in spectacular aerobatics. This they do to ward off strange animals, including unfamiliar humans, whom they suspect may be up to no good. But this aggression of the chivalrous males is quite selective. A magpie can remember at least one hundred human faces. He is well equipped to judge which ones should be obliged to get out of the magpies’ faces.

My own speculation is that the captive magpies took particular exception to carrying “backpacks,” that concealed their handsome black-and-white saddle markings. The females thus had to dress as boys, the males as girls. Magpies are not into gender confusion; they consider it to be a scandal. Whatever their motive — this, or many others — they have added to their repertoire of ways to tease over-curious researchers, while subtracting one of the ornithologists’ tricks.

That birds and other animals, even across species, do many impressive things cooperatively, yet generally beyond the sight of man, and invisible except to the most sympathetic, is a part of natural history worth learning. They can be clever, intuitive, and inventive.

Darwinists take note: the activity of these magpies is entirely altruistic. It could have nothing to do with an evolutionary advantage, for it is only a response to the tedious behaviour of the scientific community.