We have a pair of magpies at our place that have become quite friendly. They visit us and, in return, we give them bird-friendly treats*. Sometimes they sing to us. A month or two ago, they changed their visiting pattern and came one at a time. Instead of eating what we gave them, they would accumulate the food in their beaks, and fly off over the house roofs to a distant tree. It was clear they had a young one in the nest. They were now a mother bird and father bird.
Some weeks later, they brought not one, not two, not three, but four babies to meet us. They would perch on the fence or the wires while their parents brought them food.
Four babies is a lot to feed. Both parents were on shifts taking moths and other insects back to their squawking offspring. At first, the parents would respond any time the young one squawked. They attended to their babies’ cries immediately and sacrificially, only eating themselves when the little ones were quiet.
But as time went on, the parents became slower in responding, sometimes ignoring their babies’ hunger cries completely. Instead, while the little birds were watching, the parents modelled how to find food in the lawns and gardens of our house and our neighbours’ houses.
Mother bird’s lessons
One afternoon I watched the mother bird catch an insect, take it up to where the young bird was noisily perched on a wire with beak wide open. Instead of feeding the bird, the mother bird dropped the insect to the ground. Both birds looked down to where it had fallen. Then mother bird then flew down, retrieved the insect, and flew back up to the baby who was again raucously optimistic. But then she dropped the insect again. Again she flew down to retrieve it.
The first time, I thought it was carelessness, but after several repeats, I realised it was intentional. She did this over and over tirelessly, flying down, flying up, flying down, flying up. It would have been easier to just feed the bird, but this wasn’t about food. This was about education. Her offspring had to learn an important survival lesson. And the mother bird was prepared to wear herself out to achieve that goal.
Every now and then, the parent birds would fly over to me for some ‘easy’ food. The dad always looked sleek and perky while mother bird often had a slightly frazzled appearance, with a few feathers askew, and I love her all the more for that! I admired her for her courage to keep on keeping on even though she must have been exhausted. My empathetic heart wanted to say to her, ‘Dear mother bird, you are seen. I see you!’ But of course, she did not know that she was seen as a mother, or that her love, sacrifices, patience and wisdom were noticed. She was simply being the best mum she could be because that was her purpose – whether she was seen or not.
A picture of us
There are a lot of mothering analogies that could be drawn from observing the mothers in nature, like this mother magpie. The truth I saw with most clarity was that this mother bird is just like you and the many, many mothers who, just like you, are quietly and tirelessly, doing the hard yards, going the extra mile, fighting fatigue, (and sometimes with feathers askew), in order to give your children the balance of nourishment, education and life skills that will equip them to take their place in this world as independent and responsible human beings. It’s rewarding to know you are ‘seen’, but you would do it anyway. #thisismotherhood
* please do not feed magpies with mince, cheese or bread; it can cause disease, nutrient deficiencies as well as deformities in babies. Instead, if you want to treat them, think like a bird! – collect earthworms, meal worms, earwigs, moths, cockroaches and millipedes or let them find their own food and just enjoy their company.