Quiet morning, thought Magnolia, the magpie, overseeing her territory from the balcony of No 22. Her mate Magnus and their son Junior waited for her call, perched on the boundary trees on opposite sides of their territory. Big Human Bird should be over with walnuts. Soon. Sooner would be better. Already Magnolia felt the air seething with tiny breezes made by waking birds. Sunny windless mornings are the idiot-bird weather and she didn’t have time for any of that nonsense.
She turned to face the house, craned her neck to see into the shadows made in the glass by nearby gumtree branches. Magnolia long ago figured out the human’s ‘every other day’ feeding strategy. And it’s not like walnuts were that healthy for her and the boys. But better tasting than grubs, more time away from stalking the damned grubs, more time to herself, away from the boys. Honestly, instead of like father like son, those two were like son like son.
Big Human Bird finally shuffled outside with walnut crumbs. Magnolia sidestepped along the balcony rail to the corner where the human sprinkled the crumbs. “Hello,” the human kept saying. Magnolia flushed her wing whites in reply, a standard bird greeting. The human didn’t understand. Not the smartest birds, humans. She’ll catch up eventually.
Magnolia ate her fill and called the boys. In they swooped presently and joined her in song, making the human go “Aww”. The boys ate quickly, forgetting their manners as always. Magnus had warmed up to the human eventually—these days he didn’t fly off every time she approached. But Junior had no fear of the Big Bird and pecked walnut crumbs right from her hand. Not terribly sanitary, as evidenced by huge white splatters of diarrhoea, but how else would the dumb fledgeling learn?
Junior finished his walnuts, hopped over Magnus and pecked at the last of his. Magnus screamed at Junior, who yelled back, and then the sky broke loose with a cacophony of birds yelling at each other because it was that kind of morning.
Magnolia hopped off the rail and pretended pecking crumbs on the balcony’s brick floor, keeping a low profile. No matter what the intruders said, Magnus and she agreed on one thing—the magpie trio held exclusive rights to the No 22 balcony observation spot, ownership of which they have earned through their superior intellectual ability and social skill.
The butcher bird showed up first, landing on the rail three wing-spans apart. “Hey there cuz,” he said jerking his square little head this way and that. “Seen the missus about?” Butch was always looking for his missus. She came here some mornings, didn’t say much, very skittish. Magnolia didn’t judge.
Rainbow lorikeets arrived next. They cartwheeled over the magpies, across the length of the balcony, chirping, chirping, look at me, look at me. What self respecting bird chirped? A flying gang of pretty morons.
Followed by a couple of noisy miners, another low-life of the bird kingdom. Magnolia flew up onto the rail, next to Junior, who looked about to have another splatter incident. “What’s happening, ma’am?” said one of the miners, landing on the rail unpleasantly close, turning his oily yellow eye towards her. She urrred at him and flapped a wing aggressively. He backed off, went to try it on with a lorikeet, ended up dive bombed by the whole rainbow gang.
Kookaburras had it right, Magnolia often thought. They sat high up in their trees, watching it all and laughing about it. Thick-skulled judgemental bastards, the lot of them.
By the time the cockies arrived, Magnus has had enough. “Gonna go check…” he croaked before swooping down to the other side of the road. He alighted on the midpoint observation branch and sat there sulking.
Three Sulphur Crested Cockatoos hanged off the gutters upside down, wings opened to sunlight, crests fanning out magnificently. Such pretentious divas.
“Good morning, my dears,” the whitest and fattest of the trio screeched at Magnolia, who fanned one wing out in a reluctant greeting. The fat cockie didn’t like that one bit. She flapped herself upright and plunged her mighty beak inside the gutter, raining a small explosion of wet gum leaves onto the balcony. Magnolia ignored her, making a careful display of cleaning her beak on the railing. She knew what’d happen next.
A pair of Green and red King Parrots flew gracefully in a circle high above No 22. Always so streamlined, always in pairs. Landed on the roof several wingspans from the cockatoos and tweeted to each other quietly, so as to draw maximum attention.
One of the cockatoos sidled along the gutter towards the parrots. “Good morning,” she cawed.
The parrots turned their regal red heads slowly and glared at the cockatoo, who backed off and spewed another shower of leaves from the gutter. Magnolia stopped herself from hopping down to clean up. She had a problem with clutter.
“Is this gutter-trash bothering your family?” said one of the parrots to Magnolia, turning his beak at the cockatoos.
“How dare you!” the two male cockies screeched. The fat one puffed up to almost a ball, and made a series of constipated noises.
One of the parrots took off the roof, circled menacingly once and landed on the railing, next to Junior, who shat himself again. “We are King Parrot,” he crowed to no-one in particular. His mate joined in from the roof. “Even female, we are King, you stupid ugly flying excrement!”
Magnolia prepared herself for a long insult filled screeching match between the bigger birds. But before the cockatoos had a chance to reply, or explode, the glass door to the balcony opened and Big Human Bird came out to see what the commotion was. Much flapping of wings and an orchestra of bird calls followed, as every bird in the magpie territory scampered away.
Every bird but Magnolia and Junior. They hopped back onto the balcony rail, squawking and flapping their wings, until the human bird opened another bag of walnuts and said, “Hello.”
The morning was turning out to be not so bad after all. Junior was eating out of the human’s hand. Magnus returned and waited patiently for his turn. Magnolia felt positively… magnanimous. She sang a few bars of her triumphant song, flapped her wings and launched into the air.