Billy Keane: One for sorrow, two for joy...the magpie's life is in your hands
Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30
There are laws to stop dogs barking but nothing can be done to shut up the magpies. How does he keep the raucous call going on for so long?
The magpie's throat must have been wiped with sandpaper basted in acid. I'm cracking up from it. The magpie alarm tone is worse than a nail scraping glass.
The magpie wake us up about half an hour after dawn, and his horrible calls go on for about three hours. The lyrics are staccato, hoarse and repetitive, like mad English punk bands singing horrible things about the queen.
I'm pretty sure he's squatting in our disused chimney. What am I to do? Send him a solicitor's letter?
I was thinking of going up on a ladder. But guns, heights and birds scare me.
And, yes, a homeowner can legally murder magpies, the logic being the magpies plunder the nests of game birds such as the pheasant. I now have a licence to kill and hold the power of life and death.
I'm counting now. His call goes out in five one-caw verses and there's a delay of about two seconds between each round.
I'm not sure if I could pull the trigger. What if the little baby magpies were there outside the house all day mourning the dead mammy or daddy. They say crows have funerals and the magpie is a cousin of the crow, and all those birds coming round cawing sorry for your troubles could result in some of them getting to like the place. And the problem could be compounded.
I don't know any bird undertakers who would take the corpse to its last resting place.
Maybe I can justify the killing.
I used to go to a chipper in Dublin and they got done for passing pigeons off as chickens. Their fried chicken was never the same afterwards so I check if magpies can be eaten. It seems so, but the taste is horrible. And the magpies eat mice, lizards and oozy roadkill.
There's a fly-tying business in London and the tiers pay £3 per pair of magpie wings.
That's fly-tying as in producing flies for fishing. I'm not sure, though, if I would like to wipe out the whole species and have thousands of dead magpies scattered across the Irish prairies like slaughtered buffalo but if you shot a thousand, well then that's three grand.
So with killing in mind, I contact a shootist.
"I'll get 'em," he says. "They're pretty much sitting ducks."
I laugh at his joke but wonder if it's appropriate.
He went off for a while, the magpie, but he's back and now. I want to kill him with my bare hands.
But then I get to thinking.
The Irish Wild Bird Conservancy are of the opinion that man's messing about with habitats causes more damage to small birds than magpies. It also seems magpies are very intelligent. A magpie might have the problem-solving skills of a seven-year-old child.
I'm finding it hard to think with the incessant cawing.
The magpie must die. So I call the shootist again and book him to shoot the magpie but I tell him I will not be present for the cull, which is a nicer word than killing.
Then I do the math. One from two is one and if I have the magpie killed, then that leaves one magpie.
There's an old rhyme about the magpies that goes: "One for sorrow, two for joy."
The magpie widow could bring us terrible luck by way of revenge.
We had a friend in the old days and he was the only one of our crew to own a car. He would turn back the car for home if he spotted a solitary magpie. We had to pretend so see another one and would go "there he is behind the ditch".
"Where?" our friend would ask.
And our reply was: "He flew off, you've just missed him."
And we managed to get to our destination.
Then there's the stories of magpies collecting gold and silver. Maybe there's a Derrynaflan hoard in the nest.
The screecher mightn't even be male. It's hard to identify which is which. Magpies aren't exactly donkeys.
The thoughts of culling a jeweller with the brain of a seven-year-old bothers me greatly. And there might be chicks on the way.
But just this very second he or she is joined by several more magpies.
Their harmonies aren't exactly Simon and Garfunkel and, like bad trad, every tune sounds the same.
What's left of my mind isn't fully made up, so what say you? Yae or nae? I'm taking the Herod option here. Thumbs up or thumbs down?
The magpie's life is in your hands.