WHAT are we, anyway? To the local magpies I am Meat-Giving Woman.
Last weekend my husband called me to the front door. "Look at this," he said. There were two magpies on the garden path, and as I came to the door, they advanced confidently, one of them hopping on to the veranda. It looked at me fixedly, turning its head to do so out of one bright eye.
"It did the same thing about three weeks ago,"
I said. I'm sure it's hungry. So I went, as I had done before, and got some raw cats' meat from the fridge and came out again. The first magpie was still waiting on the veranda, and backed up to let me put the lump of meat on the path. They attacked it ravenously.
As we went back in to leave them to their meal, Rick said to me, "I swear it all but spoke to me.
It came up and eyeballed me and said, 'Get that woman who gives us meat'."
The magpies don't come to Northcote every day. The first time they came there had been a storm, and last weekend was windy, so I figure that they ask for food when insects are scarce.
A day without food is a very serious matter for a bird. They have a very high metabolic rate: their hearts beat fast, they use masses of energy to fly, and because they need to be light to fly, they can't store much fat. So they need food often. The Northcote magpies were not tame at all, just rather clever and assertive. How they knew to come to us instead of someone who might flap their arms and yell "Shoo!" is another matter. Maybe they were working the whole street door to door, like telco salesmen.
We talked of it with that certain joy that you get from being trusted by a wild animal. Both of us were aware that we were being anthropomorphic: ascribing human traits to a non-human entity.
We wondered if we were being sentimental dills for ascribing our human kind of dialogue and intentionality to the birds. But it all came so naturally, somehow.
We blithely attribute personal qualities to animals, but then we go ahead and reattribute them to ourselves as totems, aspirations, symbols and love objects.