How a young magpie taught me a lesson.

A brief moment with a young magpie gives me hope that people are good.

Called my Dad up during the week and we had a good chat about work and holidays and then we got to talking about how things were at home... 

"I have a good mind to shoot those magpies Aisling as they are wrecking the place" he says "they are robbing the chickens nest boxes every day and spoiling the eggs...there are far too many of them anyway- and most annoyingly they rob the other wee birds nests too- do you notice there are less of them these days?"

I wholeheartedly agreed, we should do something about those damn magpies.  There does seem to be too many of them...and you have to be pragmatic about these things sometimes.  We would stake them out with the air rifle next time we had a spare afternoon....


With everyone away in Donegal I am minding my family home up in the beautiful Gleno and stayed out in the garden all day, playing about with Lizzie the bold brat of a shetland pony that we bought for my niece.   I took a break from all screens today, as reading the comments section on two articles last night really upset me, one was about men, women and children drowning in the Mediterranean and boats being refused permission to go out and help them. (cue the comments "well that'll teach them eh? coming over here what did they expect was going to happen! They shouldn't have put their kids in that boat!  There's too many of them already!)

The second a heartbreaking picture of 5 kids sleeping on cold metal chairs in a Dublin Garda station, highlighting the homelessness crisis in Ireland right now (cue the comments..."well just who did she think was going to pay for those kids?? Has she never heard of contraception?  It's high time these dole scroungers were got rid of....)

So there I was walking though where the yard is that has sheds, a stable and a yard in it and I hear this rustling and flapping noise, but assumed it was a grey squirrel rooting around.   About 5 minutes later I passed again and heard the same noise- this time I saw what it was.. A half-grown magpie that had got its head stuck between two boards of the the fence.  Hopelessly trapped.  It was doing its best to flap its wings up to get away but it couldn't get its neck free and the more it flapped the more it was strangling itself.

I paused.  I remembered the conversation with my Da, wasn't this a perfect opportunity?  Sure couldn't I just walk away and let it die? It would be one less of them, one less to shoot at a distance.  But the sad way it was moving and screaming and the shine on its beautiful black feathers meant I couldn't leave it to it's unlucky fate.  Like so many wee ducklings and chickens that we had as pets when we were younger I gently put my hands around it and held its body so it couldn't panic and flap its wings.  Then I carefully disentangled her and moved her neck up along the sides of the boards until she was free.  Holding her then, I looked straight into her beady black eye and admired the detail of her feet and legs...that is until she made me jump with an loud squawk.

I took her to an open space in the yard and let her go, she took of without a second glance and roaring at the top of her voice.  I saw the tree rustle as her anxious parents welcomed her back home.

I walked back up to the house with a smile on my face and pondered the term 'cognitive dissonance' - the gap between belief and behaviour.  I thought back to my conversation with my Da and remembered how easy these things are to say at a distance, when its over there, dissociated and disconnected from our life in the here and now.  For me it was comfortable to say that when the magpie was far away, distant, unnamed & unfelt.  It was just a statistic then.  A casualty at a distance.

Just like those heartless online comments I had read the night before, mean and cold words are easier written from behind a computer screen.  Easier when you are not looking those 5 cold children straight in the eye lying under the bright lights of a waiting room.  Easier said when you are not pushing off the desperate grab of a drowning man or picking up dead 4 year olds off beaches in Greece.  I refuse to believe that many of the commentators would say those things out loud to those children's faces, and I think the majority of the racists we have here in Ireland would not actively drown a child because of the colour of their skin.

There is a saying I heard before that 'Men are cruel, but man is kind' and I do believe from my experiences with humans, that most people are good and kind.  Not everyone is, but most people are, especially face to face.  Most people when confronted with a reality, kick into gear to be kind and do what they can for the person or child or magpie in the moment.

So if you like me feel down and sometimes anxious with how the world seems to be going sometimes, please don't lose heart.  People are good and kind, but the internet can be a nasty place sometimes, so it is all the more reason to have real conversations with real people.  All the more reason to build community, friendships, kindness and compassion.  Turn off the comments sections, breath and don't engage with useless arguments where people only become further entrenched into their own position.

So the magpie lives on for another day! Thank you for teaching me about my own blind spots.

My Dad is an aul softie anyway.  He would probably never get around to shooting them.

Much love and take heart!




Aisling Cowan is a NLP Mindcoach specialising in anxiety and works at the Belfast Chiropractic Clinic on the Ormeau road, Belfast.