Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. April 3, 1910. Sunday World-Herald 45(27): 10-W.

The Sandhills Magpie.

The seeing of a pair of magpies while stalking mallards up along Brush Creek in Cherry county last Thursday, with Con Young of this city and Tom McCawley and Sime Elwood of Seneca, reminded me of the somewhat singular fact that these interesting birds range nowhere east of the Missouri river. Certainly there is nothing in the nature or character of the bird to account for it. Strong, hardy, bold, intelligent, it is fit to fight the battle of life anywhere. Yet it confines itself strictly to the states west of the Big Muddy. This is one of the problems which the science of ornithology does not solve.

From what Mrs. Frances Palmer tells us in a recent number of Forest and Stream about the interesting species referred to, it appears to be a full first cousin to Pica rustica of the British Isles. The latter has long been famous as perhaps the most ruse among birds. It takes a special delight in thieving and of a kind to entice it to be ranked with the light-fingered fraternity, but withal is one of the most beautiful and unique of the whole feathered family. Its thieving propensities, it seems, are more of a mischievous character than anything else, and yet there is nothing which it will not carry off or try to carry off that its sharp eyes can find. In the spring it is to be seen upon the backs of sheep, leaving tribute on their wool, and when hunger tempts, it will drop into the farm yard and feast upon young chickens.

The nest deserves a few words of description. First a deep bowl is worked out of clay and fine twigs. Around this is erected a dome of thorny sticks which is added to year after year. This eventually becomes so thick and strong that it would take a pickax to break it down.

There is belief among the western ranch and mountain men that the bird brings bad luck, and many of them would just as soon shoot a human being as a magpie. Some day I will tell you about the one I shot up on the big White Clay in South Dakota and the luck that befell me that day. There are many superstitions regarding the bird. Some believe that in numbers of two or more the magpie may bring good fortune, but all agree that a single one bodes evil. There is nothing to throw light on the origin or reason of this superstition. In the case of the raven we may be quite sure that it is its sinister appearance, and lugubrious creak which cause it to be regarded with fear. But there is nothing sinister or lugubrious about the magpie; quite the contrary. Yet, the superstition in regard to it is as stated.

In the old country, peasants will turn back on their way to fair or market on meeting a magpie. An old rhyme in England has it:

  • Whoever meets a single pie,
  • His fortune's sure to go awry;
  • He may be sick or even die;
  • But if he meets with two or more,
  • Good luck will greet him at his door.

A Most Enjoyable Outing.

Of all the pleasurable spring hunts I have enjoyed during the past quarter of a century none were more replete with good things than the one from which I returned a few days ago. Conrad Young and a more sterling sportsmen or better fellow never lived, of this city, was with me, and at Seneca we were joined by two other princes of the realm, Tom McCawley and Sime Elwood, and there proceeded to the Milton Hanna ranch, some eighteen miles to the north, on the clear, cold, gushing, trout-laden Big Creek, which was our headquarters. Lucky devils, indeed. In all the sandhills region there is no more harming haven for the ardent gunner than the Hanna ranch, and the days we spent there were fraught with nothing but happiness. We were also the guests of Frank Lee, one of the big ranchers northeast of Brownlee, for a couple of days, and he, too, gave us a most royal time. We found the birds fairly plentiful and had no difficulty in keeping our own table and that of our nearest neighbors well supplied. The weather was just like June, and while this precluded all shooting but just what was necessary, it did not interfere with our general felicity-our chub fishing in Big Creek, long exploring drives among the distant lakes and hills, in an atmosphere as exhilarating as champagne, our grand rallying levees in the evening, our kodak work, our coyote chase, prairie fire night-all combining in a perfect saturnalia of joy. Redheads were unusually plentiful in and about Alkali lake, but we infrequently molested them, eleven birds being our biggest bag, and that was made the morning we left.