I don’t know what happened to Tiny, was he born with his disability or did he fell out of the nest as a youth? I know Tiny’s parents though; they live in our back yard. Their nest is high up in the large hedge that separates our property from our neighbors.
It’s said that the Eurasian magpie is one of the most intelligent animals throughout the world. I definitely agree after studying Tiny’s dad. Not only is he intelligent; he has an emotional component to his intelligence with a sense of right and wrong. I didn’t expect that, but I believe it’s a vital part of what comes next.
First, let me introduce you to my world. We live in a small village; our old house is built in 1886 and it’s surrounded by a small orchard, filled with apples and some pears. If you ask our neighbors they will probably tell you that gardening isn’t our strong side. There are no beautifully cut lawns here, nor any perfectly trimmed hedges. However, there is a vital eco system, filled with fun animals that my husband and I adore. None of them are pets. For us they are co-inhabitants, and we want them to thrive on their own and when the winter gets too harsh; they get a little help from us.
Our house has three floors for our family, then there’s the fourth floor for the small birds. They live under the roof. They don’t harm the house; so we let them stay there. There are Mr. and Mrs. Tree Sparrow, they are old now and have lived with us for over five years. They say that Tree Sparrows can become 13 years old if they live in a safe environment, and maybe they have a few more summers, while they look at their children and grandchildren.
Mr. Tree Sparrow is the guardian of the bird feeder. When the winter is cold and we forget to refill it, he sits on the fire escape ladder and knocks on the window with his little beak. I never thought I could separate one Tree Sparrow from another, but after I got to know Mr. and Mrs. Tree Sparrow, I realized that every little bird is different; by now we have learned to separate them and recognize their markings.
On the other side of the house lives Mr. and Mrs. Great Tit. They are probably one of the cleanest birds I have ever seen. Every spring they give me a bad conscience; I don’t spring-clean my part of the house as well as they take care of theirs.
Then we have Thumper, a big hare that moves in under our garden table as soon as the snow starts to fall. For a long time, we had a small family of deer’s. They stayed with us for four years, but we are glad they eventually moved on; deer tends to make a mess out of a garden.
The loudest inhabitants of all are our flock of pheasants, led by the colorful, loud and clumsy Sverker. By now, he has accidentally fallen of trees, the deck chairs, tables, the barbeque (luckily, it wasn’t hot), the laundry rack, the greenhouse and our cars. Every time; he quickly looks around to check if someone saw him, or if his pride is still intact.
Now, let’s get back to Tiny and his parents. The magpies have lived here as long as we can remember, but it took a few years before we understood that it was the same couple of magpies. They have a magnificent nest in the hedge and they add an extension to it now and then. Magpies are proud of their nests and an established couple usually have more than a one-room apartment. We got to know them a little, over the years. We looked at how they raised their kids and followed them from a distance. They didn’t bother us, so we let them stay. They usually had 2-3 fledglings every year and when they were 18-month-old, the parents kicked them out and we didn’t see them anymore.
That was the norm, until everything changed with the Brat-pack. They were born two years before Tiny. It must have been a good year, our magpie couple got five fledglings. They grew up to be five obnoxious teenagers – a.k.a. the Brat-pack.
They were everywhere, turning our quiet corner of the world into chaos. They chased Thumper across the lawn, they pulled his ears and pinched his tail. They pulled feathers from poor Sverker, and his wives shuddered in the bushes. They chased the hedgehog so he ran around in circles on his tiny legs. They snatched cookies and food from the dining table, so you could never turn your back on them. No matter where we were in our garden, we had five loud teenage magpies surrounding us. It was an exhausting time, both for us and Tiny’s parents.
That was the summer I got to know Mr. and Mrs. Magpie. Our philosophy is; that the garden inhabitants must fend for themselves and we don’t interfere unless it’s life threatening. I walked pass a window on the second floor and glanced at the outside world. Then I saw Sverker; he sprinted across the lawn, with the neighbor’s cat at his tail.
If you never have seen a pheasant fly, let me describe the scene. It’s like when an overweight freight plane tries to lift. It takes time, it’s bumpy, and the lawn isn’t long enough for something to happen. So, Sverker was trying to get off the ground with no success and with the cat closing in on him. Usually, cats don’t hunt the pheasants since they are almost twice their size with a sharp beak. This cat hadn’t learned this lesson yet, and Sverker looked like he was running for his life. I was just about to chase away the cat, when I saw Tiny’s dad swooping down on the scene.
“Poor Sverker, not him too,” I thought, but how wrong I was. Mr. Magpie attacked the cat. He defended Sverker and chased away the cat. That’s the first time I’ve seen one species defend another species.
I started to watch him. Mr. Magpie stood for the law and order in our garden. When the Brat-pack became too obnoxious, he interfered. When potential danger loomed, he warned everyone. When the neighboring cat came over, he chased him away. He never touched our cat, or any other animal that lived in the garden. Mr. Magpie had an evolved sense of what was right and wrong and he enforced it, in what he regarded as his territory.
That brings us back to the summer when we found Tiny. They say that birds discard weak offspring, especially birds that are carnivores. Maybe it was their sense of right and wrong, but for some reason Mr. and Mrs. Magpie decided to raise their little son; even though he was disabled.
When we first met Tiny, he had moved 60 yards from where he was born, that’s not far for a bird; that is, if you can fly. It must have taken him days to find his new home. He passed the greenhouse, a hedge, some apple trees, another hedge and our house; and for some reason, he fancied a pile of branches, at least enough to move in underneath them.
During nights, he slept beneath his pile; if he got scared he either ran into a hedge or hide under the pile. During the rest of the day he moved around on the front lawn, he ate, explored and learned how to fly.
Tiny was a small bird, but he wasn’t under-nurtured. It was clear that Mr. and Mrs. Magpie had taken loving care of him. After a while, we realized that they still did; they visited him a few times each day, with their two other kids. Stayed with him on the lawn, walked around, tried to teach him how to fly and simply interacted with him.
It almost broke my heart the first time I saw them. When they left, Tiny sat there, he followed them with his black eyes. When he didn’t see them anymore, he walked slowly back to his pile and disappeared beneath it. A tiny, lonely little magpie.