Shoot All The Magpies….

Posted on July 5, 2011


Similar babies to those cruelly snatched from our store nest.

…but remember, it’s a sin to kill baby swallows.

Or at least that was the sentiment in the Hayes household today. 

A day long stakeout has ended. The day started with tragedy but has ended with some level of satisfaction and a glimmer of hope.

A little after lunchtime today, a murder occurred in our back store, behind our house.

In years previous, when I was a child, we used to have swallows nest in that store every year. One year, a cat got at them but every other year they always survived and chirped off back to Africa or wherever for whatever craic it is that swallows get up to.

This year was the first for a long time that the swallows returned to the store, having moved around between horse’s shed and other places. When I heard they were back I felt like I was ten years old again, ducking my head going through the doorway for fear of having my head taken off by the 90mph speeding birds.

Their speed and elegance is breathtaking. They can travel at breathtaking speeds and yet still manage to stop before hitting something. I was watching them all afternoon.

The chirp of babies used to serenade us in the mornings and we’d always be glad to see them every year – it was a sign of the summer.

But today, no more than a week after the birth of four little babies, a black and white villain swooped in and swiped three of them. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and heard the ruckuss from Mammy and Daddy but it was too late to do anything except curse profusely and swear revenge on the evil bird.

Public Enemy Number One

The magpie is not a liked animal in my house, it probably isn’t in any other house either but my mother in particular hates them. If she looks out the window and sees them in the yard, she raps at it with a knife or lets the dog out. Her comment is always, “They’re dirty b******s, they pick the eyes of baby lambs,” a sentence which, to me, justifies the hatred of them.

On alerting my father to the assault, he came running, climbing up a ladder, surprised that they hadn’t pulled the nest off the wall and thinking it must have just been my eyes playing tricks on me.

Alas, no. The magpie had been there and had picked off three of the defenceless babies, leaving one small, shivering, shocked little bird. The mammy and daddy patrolled the air outside, their cries to each other breaking our hearts a little bit.

And for the afternoon, I sat at the back door, a golf ball in hand, waiting for the magpie to come back, waiting for one clean shot at the bugger.

I’m not naive. I understand the point of nature and the survival of the fittest and all that jazz. But I’m also one of those people who does not fare well with animals dying – the death of three ponies, the closest things to family pets – hit me very hard, particularly the second one Coco who was, for want of a better word, my baby. The magpie had muscled in on a little family that my family and I had spent weeks letting in and out of the store. We’d watched the mammy sitting on the nest, waiting for them to hatch. We’d remarked on how her behind must have hurt she’d been sitting there for so long. This attack wasn’t just nature taking its course. To us, it was personal.

So I sat, keeping watch while my father, who took it even more personally than I drew up a plan of attack while carrying out some of his own daily jobs. At a little after five, the shotgun came out. He wandered the garden a few times, looking for his chance, looking for one clear shot. If I had been able to shoot, I’d have hit him at least three times during the afternoon. The chance didn’t come. It was as if they knew.

Because, and this is what annoyed us most, not content with stealing away with three of the babies, the magpie had to come back for more. It had to inflict even more pain on the grieving parents by having a go at the last little fella. Everytime he drew near the door (and he was brazen enough to get ridiculously close) I stood up, ready to aim. But the swallows were keeping their own watch at this stage and each time he came near, one or both would dive to shoo him away.

Late in the evening, upon realising that we couldn’t sit all night to keep watch, my father and I fashioned a net which we hung across the doorway of the store. There was enough space at the top for the swallows to get in but not enough for the magpie. We retired to the sitting room where we watched carefully to see if our plan would work.

The swallows cottoned on to the new system quickly enough. The magpies seemed to have disappeared. Again, it was as if they knew. My father and I high-fived, something I have never seen him do before. But that was the thing. My mother and sister half laughed at us. To me and my dad, this was personal and there was a sense of accomplishment in knowing that we could perhaps have done enough to ensure the survival of the last baby in the nest.

My father later remarked that he was tired, something I’ve never heard him complain of. I joked that it was from the ‘war-room strategy’ he had spent the day devising. His response was simple, amusing and full of promise, “That hasn’t started yet. But I’ll get my revenge.”

The Hayes backyard will not be a good place for magpies for the next few days.

The ould lad has declared war.