Devil-Eyed Hell Birds

Magpies are the size of crows, black and white in colour, with razor blade beaks and lit-from-within rusty red-yellow eyes. Generally, they are a stand-offish bird that issue clumsy, slightly-off-tune songs and peck grubs and mites from the yard. They are highly intelligent and, as I found in my research (because I am that nerd) that they are the oldest living ancestor of songbirds as we know them. So there’s a useless tidbit to amaaaaze your friends and family with*.
(* Disclaimer- none of my friends nor family have so far been wowed by that knowledge.)

The reason I have researched magpies rests solely in the fact that I am 100% completely and wholly terrified of them. Not that they are special- I harbour a phobia (healthy?) fear of all birds. All of them. Every single bird that exists in the world.
“Certainly not parrots?”, You ask.
Brightly coloured squawking death machines, say I.
“What about bluebirds? Chickadees? Tufted Titmice?”
Indigo traitors; tiny devils; adorably-named spawns of Hell!, I reply
“Hummingbirds,” You reason? “No one could be afraid of hummingbirds!”
Feathered BEES. And that is that.

But. I have been actively courting the gang of magpies that owns my neighbourhood. They came with the house (we recently moved to a nicer place, by the way, for those of you who didn’t know). I do this by scattering cat food around for them. Again- I read online that they like it. It does feel strange, though, feeding a bird dry pellets of “tuna and rice flavoured meal,” but whatever, I never saw a house cat catch any live fish or harvest rice- so I guess that’s about even.

Magpie
Australian Magpie

  *Most of these photos taken from the internet, because I am not about to go bird-watching for ya’ll

 

There are two groups of magpies that take turns pecking through our yard. I categorise them in terms of John Hughes movie tropes (I am, if nothing else, a product of 80’s crap cinema):

One group is named after the Three Stooges- Larry, Moe, and Curly- as they tend to peck at one another, but still hang in a set. These are the popular crowd, the jocks and prom queens and James Spader characters. I can’t actually tell them apart.

The other group consists of the weirdos and misfits: “Half-Beak” who is missing half of her top beak (clever name, I know), “Twitchy” who has feathers that are often stuck out at weird angles and may have a limp, and “Shemp” who is very round and friendly-but-nervous and sometimes hangs out with the first crew.

Then, there is the loner that O named “Midnight,” for his solid-black beak, which none of the others are too fond of. He is gigantic and menacing. His beak is curved down at the end, like he bashed it against someone’s skull too hard and crooked it permanently. He descends on the other groups and scatters them so he can steal their food. I fear him the most, so I feed him the most. I’m pretty sure he’s waiting for me to not show up with the goods, and then he’ll peck my eyes out.

Parliament.jpg
My personal yard parliament- Twitchy, Half-beak and Shemp

And- to be fair- this very specific fear of eye-pecking is justified. And not in the “I watched Hitchcock as a child” kind of justified- but deep-in-the-truth justified.See: In the Spring, also known as “Swooping Season,” also known as right now, the males become highly protective over their nests and ATTACK HUMANS. They *literally* attack the back of your head repeatedly until you flee (often crying) from their own private war zone.

Unlike some other swooping birds here, they do not engage in mild hair-grazing one-off tags that make you grumble up at them in mild annoyance. Magpies (and Plovers, too) are relentless fiends that come at you again and again, heavy bodies banging at the base of your skull, beaks snapping at your face. They have caused cyclists to lose control and fall out into traffic, pedestrians to suffer skin and eye wounds, a friend of mine cowered in a bush for over an hour as a child while under attack and got a sound whupping from her worried parents for being late from school. She says it was worth the spanking to let the bird wear itself out rather than face its wrath.

Last year, I was still commuting to University several days a week by bike. There was a magpie that had decided that he hated me. I tried not to take it personally at first, but soon came to realise that it was, specifically, me- and that he held the same vindictive rage as a certain ex of mine, who shall remain nameless. In both cases, it was merely the fact that I continued to exist in the world that seemed to enrage them to violence. In both cases, I tried everything I could to appease my assailants. I don’t know which worked out better in the end, but I can say that- after everything- I still have both eyes. 
Needless to say, this persnickety magpie reversed any progress I had made with my ornithophobia (that means “real scared of birds,” ya’ll). Not that I had made much, really.

There are birds in Australia that gave me hope- the bumbling Lorikeets (or “tree Skittles” as my friend dubbed them that flit around drunk on rotten tree-fruits and chirp like bridesmaids; the Cockatoo that preen and waggle their neon-yellow crests, but also scream like pterodactyls when they flock; the Galah, which are pink and grey and congregate in plumy crowds; Kookaburra are fat and “laugh” like a crowd of drunks when it’s about to rain; and the simpleton Ibis that is basically a goofy chicken with a big, hooked beak that pillage garbage cans like confused pirates.

Lorikeet
Lorikeet
Galah
Galah
kookaburra
Kookaburra
ibis
Ibis

I like Ibis and Kookaburras, and the rest I have a wary respect for. Except the crows, which are like American crows- except with white irises rimmed in black. WHITE IRISES RIMMED IN BLACK! Imagine 1990’s Marilyn Manson, but actually frightening. But not aggressive. Not like the magpie. Magpies are incredibly intelligent- and can be downright hateful. Real Scary. Not pop-star scary.

crow
Crow (WHITE EYES!!)
magpieswoop
Magpie attack (that’s not me)

So, when we moved into this house, and I realised we had a PARLIAMENT of magpies (look it up- that’s the real term!) about the place, I reckoned I had to take some preventative measures. And so I went online and learned too much about them.

They are HIGHLY intelligent and can not only recognise themselves in mirrors (besides human and magpies, “only four ape species, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants have demonstrated this ability”), but they can also remember HUMAN faces . In the face of certain doom, I made the decision to align myself with the enemy- to endear myself to them- feed them, woo them, hope they like my knock-off Fancy Feast because we can’t afford brand-name. I bought cat food and began to sprinkle it in the yard like a deranged Mary Poppins “tuppence” pigeon-lady.

I took the video below this morning- can you hear the FEAR in my voice?

I started in June, when we moved. It is now September and my small, humble-yet-brave parliament of feathered neighbours has not attacked me. Yet.
The Stooges and the Misfits take shifts, one accepting treats in the morning, the other at night. Half-Beak comes around whenever she wants, and Twitchy does a funny sideways hop all the way up to my feet when I’m outside. I expect that one day she’ll let me pet her. I expect that will happen before I am ready, but if she’s real close, I’ll try it just the same and we’ll probably both freak out and avoid each other for a while…. speaking from past experience, that is. It’s always cool in the end, though. Usually.

Anyway, Spring has sprung and eggs are being laid. Which means that magpie dads (and a few mommas) are starting to get protective and ornery. I am hoping that my strategy of befriending-ahead-of-troublesome-times has taken hold. It’s a skill learned through life, and was “legitimised” by fancy pants fluff-n-stuff professors at university while I trudged through their lectures over the past few years. One that, interestingly, few actually followed themselves- looking at you, MB, you Party City Gandalph-beard having elitist and stealer of credit from grad students writings, you fascist of using the capital T in The University… – if you read it and wonder- it’s YOU (oh, the shade! Somebody stop me. But don’t. But do.) but that’s a tale for another time. Or not, if- according to him- I understand the “potential ramifications on my career/reputation.” Ahem.

Where was I?
Magpies. Right.
I fed them and made efforts to stand out with them while they ate. I suffered through their cocked-head glances, forcing myself not to run- not even from Midnight. I let them steal leftover pupusas off the patio table. They allow me to walk safely from my back door to the laundry line. Twice now, they have approached as I lounged in the yard-hammock reading books.


This one is getting bold- s/he came to steal my pupusas!

I think we have a peace accord. Though, I have to wonder if they have come to see me as a source of food and will become angry if I fail to produce. I wonder, as all good peace peacebuilders should, whether my efforts are creating lasting positive change, or merely acting as an uniformed band-aid treatment that plasters over the harm and allows deeper infection to brew under the surface.
I don’t know.
But if they ever turn against me- I’m making the kids fetch the laundry until December.
Because it’s also HILARIOUS to watch others get swooped.

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re(Emerging)

As an extroverted empath, with a tendency to isolate when stressed, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of poking my head up above the ashes of the burnt hole I left in social media many months ago (what is it now, 9?). Between personal and political upheavals between November of last year and today, I found myself shrinking more and more into the closed space of myself. The online world was (and continues to be) a festering garden of anxiety and social discord.
I watched as people I love “un-friend” or attack one another on Facebook and other platforms because of misunderstandings and disagreements- even when they were essentially on the same page, just using different vernacular. I had to answer to many private messages reading too much into my own posts, which I intentionally kept light and non-personal.
The internet was becoming a weird slam-book that I wanted no part of. **Unlike the imaginary slam-books of my middle school Sweet Valley High imaginings, that I was SO eager to see, but never did. Probably because it’s a shitty idea. To everyone except drama-hungry 12-year-olds. Which I fully was. But am not now… but I digress.**
Last January I announced my hiatus from Facebook. I took the app off my phone, and made a concerted effort to not look in on the traffic through my computer. I did maintain my Instagram page, as it just feels safer somehow- less whinging about politics and more pictures of kittens and such. The lack of commentary was refreshing.
I also collapsed this blog, which has bothered me since. Several times a week I consider what I would share in a post about navigating the strange landscape of immigrant experience in Australia. But, so far, I have kept it to myself- and the occasional napkin or stray piece of paper I find floating about. I needed time to sort myself and figure out how (or if) I wanted to proceed in the digital world.
Over the past few months, though, this self-protection/preservation chrysalis I had formed to keep the online strife at bay had also had repercussions on my real-life interactions with people. I am an incorrigible talker-to-strangers, but realised that I have been engaged less and less with my friends.

Initially, a few folks would notify me if there was a Facebook event I needed to tap into- all of which I, inevitably, missed. Every so often I would peep in and catch a birthday or a memory or a funny post and make a little comment, then scurry back into my hole like a trapdoor spider. What happened was that I forgot about Facebook, and it forgot about me. Which was kind of nice for a bit.

One day I happened to be on and saw that a femme-crush of mine had posted about forming a group to talk about parent co-misery, and I was ALL IN. I followed this page, with parents and carers of young people coming together to laugh, cry, and give advice- because, let’s face it- kids are fully realised human beings and, thus, sometimes total assholes sometimes. We need places to give hugs and applause, be it physical or virtual. And, because of this group, I put the Facebook app back on my phone.

It did not take long for me to start opening it up to “check-in” (read: creep) on what my friends and groups were up to. For some reason, the app thinks I want to see when students from my university put couches up for sale, and that’s annoying, but I largely ignore this… except that burgundy velvet sofa I am still sad got snatched from the curb before I had a chance to respond…

All of this information distracts from the point I am trying to make. Simultaneous with my online retreat was a visceral one, that pulled me in and away from people I could have interacted with in a real context but, for a variety of reasons, avoided. 
And then I became lonely. 
But, and I know this is odd to non-extroverts, I began talking to strangers more than ever.
I know Paul, a cashier at the grocery store, who grew up in an Aboriginal community out west and was told that he was light-skinned because his “Momma got the black whipped offa her for hanging out with white-fella.”
I know Siobhan, an elderly woman who walks a small and bitey-sort-of dog around the neighbourhood. She owns the house where they filmed “He Died With A Falafel in His Hand,” in 2001 (great movie, by the way). The back half was cut off during filming, and she never bothered to have it repaired. She’s a hoarder, and the house is packed to inaccessibility- but the garden is lovely, and host to plants and flowers that dance across the senses like Garbo and Astaire in chlorophyll shoes. Siobhan always dressed creatively and pokes though the piles of times left out for collection We often tip each other off to good hauls.
I know Tom and Gemima, who traipse daily through the cement waterways under and beneath parklands to document and preserve graffiti art. If they see that a piece has been covered, they get to work peeling off the new layer of paint. Tom is the talker, Gem the peeler. She is relentless- casting palmfuls of acrylic chips into the woven bag at her hip.

But knowing, and- perhaps- loving these people (and a whole lot more- maybe a post for another time) has not helped to push me out of the blue wasteland of loneliness I have cocooned myself in. We are friendly, but not friends.
Many of my Australian friends have been cast off to other parts of the globe – it’s a hazard of International Studies. Everyone gets jobs in Solomon Islands or South Africa, Geneva, Burundi, New York (ya’ll?!!) and you get left alone waiting for a new crop of people that will eventually leave, or be forced out due the prohibitive immigration system here.
But there are some here still.
And I have my friends back in the US, who are celebrating all manner of personal and social milestones that I need to be back in touch with. New family members- partners, children, animals (I fucking REFUSE to call them “fur babies,” so get used to that)- jobs, houses, cities…
And I recognise that, if I want to be around them, I need to get out of my hole and interact.
Online.
Ugh.

Because we live in a world where social media is a necessary tool to grease the social wheels.
And I realise the need to connect with people because my social synapses are starting to prune themselves.

So, fuck it. I’m back.

(‘Scuse my French)