I turned my head to the sound on the window. There was Toe Pecker, perched on the back of the chair out on the deck and staring hard at me. I put my coffee down.
‘Okay, Toe Pecker. Let me finish my coffee.’
It was hard to continue whilst trying to ignore a magpie fledgling perched about sixty centimetres from my left shoulder with his beak almost on the glass. I’d sneak a peek at him from time to time.
I call him ‘him’, although it could be ‘her’. Courtesy of Google, I’ve learnt that magpies take about two years to develop the distinctive male or female plumage that we can recognise. In the meantime, we have three magpies aged about nine months which come to visit us, increasingly without their mother, Margaret. They are now fully sized. Each magpie has a grey and black speckled breast and each wears a delicately white and grey patterned shawl on its back.
We’ve gone a bit silly with the names. Margaret is their mother, Malcom, their father. I’m embarrassed to say that their surname is Morris. The largest chick we called Big Boy, because he was. We don’t see much of him as he has been independent from quite early on. Toe Pecker? Well, you can guess. He is a confident, inquisitive bird who likes to walk around the deck while we’re sitting out there. If I sit with my leg crossed, he will hop up onto my suspended foot. He is curious about bare toes, those large worms, and had been known to gently peck at them. He will fly onto our knees to check out crumbs on our jumpers. The youngest magpie is Fluff Ball, who remained fluffy for longer than the other two, and who has been dependent on his Mum for longest.
Toe Pecker remained on his perch, giving me very direct eye contact whenever I turned towards him. It’s a bit disconcerting to have a black beak and two sharp dark eyes directed towards me from so close.
Hmm. The jar of husked sunflower seeds, was over on the bench. I wanted to finish my toast.
Oh, no! He’s puffed up his breast feathers, lifted his head and started to sing. He still sounds a bit like a squawky, rusty wheel but his vocal range and songs are developing. He has me completely trained and I cannot resist his song.
‘Righto, Toe Pecker. Here I come.’
His gaze follows me to the kitchen bench and my approach to the sliding door. He holds his nerve and remains on the back of the chair as the door slides open next to him. Now he’s shuffling. I toss a small handful of seeds onto the deck. He’s down there immediately, walking and pecking up the seeds like a machine.
Ha! I might have guessed! There’s a whoosh of black and white and there are his siblings and his mother. Right, more seeds onto the deck. These birds don’t bother to greet me. They come and feed and fly away pretty quickly.
However, Toe Pecker stays, potters around on the deck, has a drink of water and perches on the branch near the water bowl. I go out to sit and watch him. His throat puffs, he lifts his head and sings a farewell song.
This is a bird who knows how to greet and farewell.