Magpie
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Source: Kongelige Bibliotek (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Anne Walsh (Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4)) Copyright 2003 Kongelige Bibliotek / Used by permission Manuscript description Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4, Folio 41v


 

Magpie

Latin name: Pica

Other names: Pye

The magpie has a voice which can express words with distinct sounds

 

 
General Attributes

Magpies are like poets in that they have a voice which can express words with distinct sounds, like human speech. Even if they cannot speak, they imitate the sound of the human voice. They hang from branches and chatter annoyingly.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 50): If magpies see someone watching their nest, they move the eggs to another location. Since the claws of these birds are not suited to carry eggs, they use a clever method: they place a twig across two of the eggs and attach it with glue from their stomach, then put their neck under the twig, and balancing the eggs on either side, carry them away. (Book 10, 59): There is a certain kind of magpie that can learn words; they become fond of some words, and not only repeat them but can be seen to ponder them. To learn a word they must hear it said often, and if a word is too difficult for them to learn they may die. When they forget a word they cheer up greatly when they hear it spoken.

Martial (xiv.73): "Pica loquax certa dominum te voce saluto. / Si me non videas, esse negabis avem." ("A chattering pie, I with intelligible voice salute you, my master / did you not see me you will say I am no bird.")

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:46): The magpie (pica) speaks words with distinct sounds, like a person. Even if they cannot speak a language, they imitate the sound of the human voice. It is a garrulous bird that hangs in the branches of trees, sounding forth. Quoting Martial, Isidore says that if you only heard the magpie and did not see it it, you would not think it was a bird.


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