beliefs about magpies

Magpies loved in Norway

February 25th, 2011

The magpie, along with other members of the crow family, is often reviled and the object of superstitious beliefs.  This interesting extract from The Naturalist of Norway by John Bowden, published in 1869, shows how attitudes to birds can vary among cultures, including within Europe.

The magpie is common in all parts of Norway.  It is a special favourite among the peasants who would not harm it on any consideration.  The Lapps esteem it highly, and do their best to entice it about their tents.  During the long and wearisome winter of Norway, the magpie is to the Norwegian bönder what the redbreast is to the country people of England.  This bird is allowed to come into the peasant’s cottage; it is regularly fed, and if any mischievous person were to molest it, he would bring down a storm about his ears which he would not forget in a hurry.

Bowden also found that Norwegian magpies, as well as becoming very tame, had special powers attributed to them, verging on the magical:

In country districts here, the people put hens’ eggs under the magpie and consider the chickens hatched in such a way will be prolific layers.

But people were aware of the risks:

When this is done, the magpie is carefully watched at hatching time, and the chickens are removed as soon as they come out of their shells, otherwise the magpie would devour them.

Photo by zimpenfish