Columnist takes a shot at magpies

Tuesday , August 19, 2014 - 12:00 AM

If all goes as planned, by the end of the week I hope to have a murder on my conscience.

Relax, I’m not talking about THAT kind of murder. I’m talking about a murder, as in a flock of birds.

Magpies are members of the crow family, and as such, one of the collective terms for them is a “murder.” Oh, there are other terms for groups of the black and white birds — a tiding of magpies, a gulp of magpies, a baker’s dozen of magpies — but according to multiple Internet sites, “a murder of magpies” is a perfectly acceptable alternative.

And I like that particular reference, because it perfectly describes what I’d like to do to these fine feathered fiends.

We’ve had a problem with black-billed magpies at our place this year. Sure, we’ve always had a few of them in the neighborhood — which is annoying, but bearable. But this year, it’s like the magpies chose our cul-de-sac for Spring Break. And then just never went back to school.

They spend their days hanging around in great numbers, chasing the songbirds away from birdfeeders, terrorizing small pets, and defecating all over everything. Not sure what they do with their nights, but I suspect it involves getting drunk and sitting naked in hot tubs, looking to hook up with members of the opposite sex.

Oh yeah, and they also leave these disgusting little regurgitated balls of what look like purple berries all over the deck and porch.

Worst of all, they’re noisy. These magpies often sit atop our chimney and squawk down the opening, which amplifies the sound inside the house and makes it all-but-impossible to concentrate on my PBS nature programs.

There seems to be this common misconception among Utahns that magpies are protected, and you’re not allowed to kill them. Turns out, this is true for seagulls, since apparently we still owe them big-time for that whole saving-the-pioneers-butts-by-eating-all-the-crickets thing. But magpies have no such gentleman’s agreement.

Indeed, Phil Douglass, of the Division of Wildlife Resources, provided a copy of the law concerning the taking of magpies. Utah law states that a person is not required to obtain a certificate of registration or a federal permit to kill black-billed magpies “when found damaging personal or real property, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.”


Look, I’m not an animal hater. I already told you I enjoy my PBS nature programming. And I don’t want to sound like some cranky old coot, either. (“Hey, you punk magpies! Get off my lawn!”) I just want them to stop loitering in my yard in such huge numbers.

I’m told that magpies are considered one of the most intelligent birds in nature, and that they rarely come to any harm because, for example, they can actually recognize the shape of a shotgun and skedaddle before the shooting starts. Well, I don’t own a real shotgun, but I do have a double-barrelled Nerf shotgun that was given to me a few Christmases back. It’s yellow and green, with bright orange barrels, but it has the classic shape of a 12-gauge.

So the other day I took my colorful weapon outside and racked it once or twice. I even fired a couple of spongy rounds in the birds’ general direction — the ammunition fell harmlessly at the foot of the tree in which they were perched.

Now, I don’t know how intelligent these birds are, but I do know they have a highly developed sense of humor. And I now know what a magpie’s laugh sounds like.

So it looks like I’m going to have to escalate the war, and get me an honest-to-goodness pellet gun. Fortunately, I don’t think I’m going to have to shoot them all. I figure if I just wing one of ’em, make an example of it, word quickly gets around the entire magpie population:

“Stay away! There’s a crazed gunman in the two-story with the green vinyl siding!”

Problem solved.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at

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