My delay in getting through the series of nineteen Corvidae members, also known as “the Corvid 19” is only dragging out the pandemic as initially it was supposed to be one a week, but there was also supposed to be vaccine by now so I am not the only one with a delay on their hands.
Today, however, we move to one of the best known and most iconic Corvids, the unmistakable Eurasian magpie. And we are going to be finding out some little-known facts about this well-known bird, including the fact that the name is actually highly sexist and chauvinistic, if you get into the etymology of it.
As usual the information is being put together in a table for so as to allow an easier summary at the end of the series. I am still thinking about publishing a fine “Corvid 19” wall chart in time for the end of the pandemic.
And if there is a second wave, I may need to do a Cervid-19 also, but I will pay deerly for such a project.
|Other names||Pie (the original name, see below)|
|Scientific Name||Pica pica|
|Number of species in the genus||7|
|Number of subspecies in this species||6|
|Literal meaning of Scientific name||“Pica” is the Latin name of the Eurasian magpie, as attested in Latin literature. Greek has Karakaxa, which could have been selected, but wasn’t.|
|Described by||Linnaeus 1758, but as Corvus Pica. The genus Pica was later posited by Mathurin Jacques in 1760. Previously Conrad Gessner had described the magpie in his 1555 work Historia animalium, a classic f renaissance zoology, but not in the binomial system, which it predates.|
|First attested in literature||Well before Gessner there are mentions of magpies in the classical literature. It is part of the folklore of many countries and is the only one of the Corvid 19 to have had an opera written about it, La gazza ladra, the Thieving Magpie, by Rossini.|
|Length bill to tail (cm)||46 (long tail, half the length of the bird)|
|Distribution||The species covers all of Europe and most of Asia in a band across Russia below the permafrost, except in Kamchatka, shich has its own subspecies. In total there are 6 subspecies, and these differ little between themselves|
|Remarks||The magpie is consider the most intelligent bird given that it alone among the birds passes the “Mirror test” for self-recognition. It is known for its iconic black and white markings which gave rise to the term “pied” for other similar markings, like the pied wagtail of Hamelin. The actual term was just “pies” which the “mag” term from ‘Maggie Thatcher” referred to the resenblance of the vocalisations to those of a nagging woman. It is reather a chauvinistic name and this as well as being both black and white are likley to make this species endangered in a leftist world like this is, where sense is ended before it’s begun.|
|Migrations||Only minor within the range of subspecies.|
|Sexual dimorphism||Barely noticeable|
|Close relatives||There are five other species in the Genus Pica, of which the Hudson magpie is very similar and also regarded as a spirit animal as the Eurasian one in ancient Germanic mythology, by the First Nations people. The yellow billed magpie and the Maghreb magpie are noticeably different, other than that, there is little to notice as difference between the species in the genus.|
|Not close relatives thought to be close||Other birds called green magpies, one of which we looked at earlier, are not distant relatives. The treepies as well, such as the black magpie we will be looking at next time, are all also corvids. The Australian magpie, on the other hand, is a completely unrelated bird and not a Corvid at all. Most unrelated but sometimes confused is a small rabbit like mountain mammal called a Pika, whose Scientific name used to be Pika pika, which sounds the same even though spelt differently, this driving a change of that one to something I cannot rememeber beginning with O.|
|Cultural significance||The Thieving Magpie overture by Rossini is a piece of music you would probably recongnise even if you do not know the name of it. It is La Gazza Ladra in Italian. Magpies are disliked as thieves of shiny objects, and also for their predation on the eggs and young of smaller songbirds, and also are regarded in some cultures as mystical harbingers of various portents, as typifies in the rhyme references in the title. Nevertheless, there are many regional variations of the “one for sorrow, two for joy” rhyme (I even made one myself called “Fagpie” in which the noxious effects of smoking are listed. It was inspired by a meme of one Magpie holding a cigarette in its beak. If these things were actually true, they would probably be universally true and not have one meaning in one place and another meaning in another, but all we can gain is that this iconic corvid bird with its unique intelligence is very good at tapping into the human propensity for superstition.|