Speckles the Magpie
A young family turned up at Native Animal Rescue a number of years ago, with a magpie in tow. They had found the magpie and cared for it for about two years – it had become a pet which they had pretty much loved as a child. It was called Speckles, pretty obvious name I guess, for a maggie. Eventually a real child came into the family and it soon became obvious that Speckles was not going to cope well with the new competition, so he was handed over to us, for the safety of the child.
Speckles was placed with other magpies to see if he could cope with mixing back in with his own, with a view to eventual release. He got along quite well with the other magpies, but it was also very clear that he continued to have a strong hankering for human contact. After a couple of weeks of Speckles settling into his new environment, staff at the centre were puzzled by whistled strains of Waltzing Matilda floating across the property. After considerable effort hunting around trying to find the phantom whistler, they were shocked to discover Speckles was the culprit, no doubt taught by his previous carers. He could belt out a complete stanza, pitch perfect. He started to perform for all staff especially at feeding time but also at other times, just for the hell of it.
We decided to keep him permanently; he was clearly very happy there and also showed good skills in helping feed younger magpies that were in various stages of rehabilitation. Keeping him also certainly saved some section of the community any drama of trying to find a local phantom whistler. Speckles lived at Native Animal Rescue for about 5 years, but then started to become a bit aggressive to staff – whistling one moment and when your back was turned doing a kamikaze dive, beak first, into the back of your head, not a pleasant sensation. Sort of shows that it doesn't really work keeping wild life in captivity.
One of the staff offered to give Speckles a permanent home at her place where he could live out his days singing away to the many honeyeaters and wattlebirds that frequented her back yard. The staff member raises numerous magpie nestlings and fledglings at home in the spring on a foster care basis, until they are ready to be moved on to bigger aviaries, back at Native Animal Rescue, where they can be rebuilt into a family, prior to release. Speckles carried on helping these youngsters by feeding them and caring for them while they were in foster care.
One of the reasons for the staff member’s particular attention to magpies is because her family are avid Collingwood supporters, so anything black and white is an attraction. While Speckles was whistling Waltzing Matilda one day, the family wondered whether he had it within him to learn yet another tune, the Collingwood club song. After practicing for many weeks, Speckles cracked it and became quite accomplished. Not satisfied with that, Speckles, on his own, went on to learn how to mimic the calls of honeyeaters and wattlebirds as well as the odd dove call and totally confounded the local wildlife – the Roger Whittaker of the bird world. Fortunately the rest of the magpies were not around long enough for Speckles to teach them Waltzing Matilda, the Collingwood song nor any of his other imitations, although, at times, some of them were suspected of having a darn good try at it.
As for Speckles, he is still living happily with the staff member, now a very mature 12 year old, learning to cope with retirement. He is pretty much happy to just sit in the sun and reminisce about past times and his singing accomplishments.