Magpies are absolutely beautiful birds, and we have a lot of them living in this area. In fact, I do not believe I ever saw a magpie before we moved to Geneva. For years we have watched them try to build nests in the trees surrounding our building, fighting pretty gritty turf wars with the neighborhood crows, the latter usually winning. Whenever the first magpie of the day is spotted, my husband would offer it a greeting, “Good day Mr. Magpie,” but the origins of this ritual escaped him.
Doing a quick Google search, I found a website that explains the folklore quite well, so please allow me to cite the passage from Timeless Myths:
Walking down the street, your morning routine is interrupted by a flash of black and white wings, settling down on the street in front of you is a largish blackbird with a few white spots — a magpie! Not wanting to ruin what could be a great day, you tip your hat and say, “Good morning Mr. Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” Congratulations — you’ve just ward off bad luck by saluting a magpie.
Seems little strange, doesn’t it, that saluting a bird could ward off bad luck? Yet in many parts of the United Kingdom spying a single magpie is considered an omen of bad fortune and saluting it is a way of showing the proper respect in hope that the magpie won’t pass on some of the misfortune that follows it. As magpies usually mate for life seeing one on its own is as sign of sorrow because it’s lost it’s mate, whereas if you see two it’s is a sign of joy as it’s with it’s mate. This is why when you see a single magpie you ask after it’s wife, thus suggesting it has a mate and is in fact happy — hence the rhyme one for sorrow , two for joy!
Magpies are known to be among the smartest birds, actually capable of seeing their reflection in a mirror (though I am not sure that one fact has anything to do with the other). I think it is so sweet that Magpies mate for life, and we often see two or three magpies together in the trees that fill the park behind our apartment, and for that I feel very lucky.
The majesty of the bird, and to support them in their on-going battle with the ominous crows, inspired me to capture their likeness in one afternoon’s nail art endeavor:
The magpie actually has a black beak, but I took some artistic license in this depiction because I wanted to be able to see the beak in the design. Although I enjoy mocking lots of British-isms (playfully, of course), greeting the first magpie spied each morning has now become part of my daily ritual. Why not, after all, I, in fact, do hope that his wife and children are doing well.