This handsome magpie was perched near the marram-covered marshes at RSPB Marsh Side, near Southport on the Lancashire coast.

Magpies have a bit of a bad reputation and are not liked a lot, as they have a reputation for predating nestlings and eggs of song birds. But their main diet consists of beetles, flies, caterpillars, spiders, worms and leatherjackets. In winter they will eat fruit, berries and grains and scavenge from bird tables and feeders, and they do eat carrion and can catch small mammals and birds. So theyr’e not entirely carnivorous, but neither are they vegetarian.

We have at least one family of magpies living near us. They visit the bird feeder, have learned to balance on the fat ball holder while having a good peck at it, and they certainly do scavenge given the opportunity.

Close up, they’re stunning, striking birds, especially when their black plumage catches the light and takes on a sheen of purple, green and blue.

They’re known as thieves, attracted to bright shiny objects. Rossini wrote music for them – The Thieving Magpie. Monet painted one in his snowy winter scene La Pie, and in Cheshire, where I live, traditional half-timbered black and white houses are known as magpie houses.

There are a few collective names for magpies; the one I like best is a mischief of magpies, which captures their slightly cocky attitude, especially when they’re seen strutting around.

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