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Saluting Magpies

By: Chris Welsh - Updated: 24 Apr 2017 | comments*Discuss
Magpie Salut Superstition Good Luck Bad

Walking down the street, your morning routine is interrupted by a flash of black and white wings, settling down on the street in front of you is a largish blackbird with a few white spots -- a magpie! Not wanting to ruin what could be a great day, you tip your hat and say, "Good morning Mr. Magpie. How is your lady wife today?" Congratulations - you've just warded off bad luck by saluting a magpie.

Saluting Magpies

Seems little strange, doesn't it, that saluting a bird could ward off bad luck? Yet in many parts of the United Kingdom spying a single magpie is considered an omen of bad fortune and saluting it is a way of showing the proper respect in hope that the magpie won't pass on some of the misfortune that follows it.

As magpies usually mate for life seeing one on its own is as sign of sorrow because it's lost it's mate, whereas if you see two it's is a sign of joy as it's with it's mate. This is why when you see a single magpie you ask after it's wife, thus suggesting it has a mate and is in fact happy - hence the rhyme one for sorrow , two for joy!

Animals and superstition have long gone hand-in-hand, but what is it about the magpie that people dread? It probably has to do with the bird's mischievous nature, and behaviour patterns that cause trouble for humans. These behaviours evolved into a general dislike of the bird, which in turn became links to superstition that magpies were "bad".

Bad behaviours

Magpies are often referred to as "thieving magpies" due to their fancy for shiny objects, such as jewellery and shiny coins - it would certainly be considered bad luck to have an expensive ring disappear from your house.

Magpies will supplement their diet of insects by raiding the nests of other birds and eating their eggs and young. When a gamekeeper is attempting to raise a family of songbirds and loses the next generation to hungry magpies, one can easily see how the magpie's reputation would be tarnished in the eyes of the gamekeeper. To the gamekeeper, and to those like him, seeing the magpie anywhere near their breeding grounds would be bad luck indeed

Other Magpie Superstitions

Magpies are linked to superstition in other cultures as well. In Scotland a single magpie near the window of a house is not just bad luck but the sign of impending death; possibly because they were believed to carry a drop of the devil's blood under their tongue. Some believe that the reason the magpie is cursed is because it was the only bird that didn't sing and comfort Jesus when he was crucified on the cross. In German, Italian, French, and Norwegian folklore magpies are often depicted as thieves. Yet in China the name of the bird is translated as "happiness magpie" in spotting one it is considered a sign of good luck.

Not All Bad

Yet they're also very clever birds and some can be taught to speak as parrots can. Not only do people salut a single magpie but if there is more than one they will undoubtedly recite the famous rhyme:

One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told.

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[Add a Comment]
@Jacob - obviously you change the time of day to 'good afternoon Mr Magpie...' Doh.
BartS - 25-Apr-17 @ 11:28 AM
What do you say when you see one in the afternoon?
Jacob - 24-Apr-17 @ 2:04 PM
When I was young my mother told me if I saw one magpie, to spit, salute and say good morning admiral...
Bryan Braddock - 29-Mar-17 @ 4:01 PM
Foxylady - Your Question:
I seen 8 magpies wots that symbol for !

Our Response:
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss, ten for a bird you must not miss!
TimelessMyths - 18-Oct-16 @ 11:58 AM
I seen 8 magpies wots that symbol for !
Foxylady - 17-Oct-16 @ 5:24 PM
@Shan - you will have double joy :))))
MadeforDancing - 10-Oct-16 @ 10:59 AM
Yesterday I was driving home and I saw 4 magpies flying and then I looked at the tree and saw another 2 what does this mean
Shan - 9-Oct-16 @ 12:39 PM
It's = "It is" Its = possessive, as in "Its tail was crooked." There is no apostrophe in the possessive "its."
Tami - 25-Aug-16 @ 3:14 AM
I looked out in my yard and there was a congregation of magpies and was wondering what this meant? They stayed about five minutes in yard and on fence as well on table and chairs? Is this good luck or bad luck?
Krissi - 23-Aug-16 @ 4:11 PM
About magpies I think there amazing and bring messages . when my mum was going for her first chemo that morning my husband heard a tap at the window we have thus magpie that follows us . But anyway he told not to worry mammy would be fine . And so she has been fly through her chemo and is doing well . It comes to my house when I a worried about things and I no then it's a sign not to be worried x
Mammy karen - 2-Aug-16 @ 5:50 PM
If you see 1 magpie then see another 1 a few minutes later is it classed as sorrow or joy
Jam - 29-Jul-16 @ 1:23 PM
Magpies?No problems - no-one is going to die - superstition. The only damage they do is raid other birds nests which is not nice BUT it's nature.We all have to die sometime - magpies or no magpies....
Bee - 10-Jul-16 @ 10:55 PM
Little black birdcwith flew into my porch this morning is that a sign of death
Lisa - 17-May-16 @ 4:39 PM
I have seen about 3 single magpies today and it's stressing me out as I'm on the verge of getting bk with my ex boyfriend is that a omen to tell me not to get bk with him or he isn't coming bk? But I was sitting on my settee earlier one passed my window then I was sending a friend one flew pass then I went to visit my mum and as I was driving home one flew pass me
CATHERINE - 14-May-16 @ 5:26 PM
@T No, I always see a lone magpie on my way to work, and I naver salute it and nothing has ever happened to me
Osc - 3-May-16 @ 12:13 PM
i saw the same magpie twice in one day. Should i be worried?
T - 2-May-16 @ 6:03 PM
@Miss merrily - You're right of course, it would be sad if this supersition ever went. But it's a shame that one magpie is seen as bad luck, in China, where I'm from the Magpie is a symbol of good luck especially if it is singing.
Ami - 15-Dec-15 @ 12:19 PM
It's wonderful that these old traditions go on and I don't think we should waste time analysing why we do it.It's just fascinating that we do it and long may it continue.This is one among many things that are part of our unique quirkiness as a nation and I wish this sort of knowledge was passed on to immigrants to our country with the encouragement to keep them alive!
Miss merrily - 13-Dec-15 @ 2:38 PM
@Jackie - I don't imagine there is a reason, we all try to look into such co-incidences when someone dies, but it was probably just that, two birds pecking at a nice tasty morsel or something. I'm sorry about your mum :(
Deeedeee - 25-Nov-15 @ 12:53 PM
Strange thing happened today after hearing what sounded like someone tapping my front door I looked out of the window and saw two magpies pecking at it. Wondered if there could be reason for this especially when my mum recently died
Jackie - 24-Nov-15 @ 11:18 PM
I saw 3 magpi this morning hen the 3rd flew into my car and was killed I had already recited the song im not sure if this is bad luck for me or means something else?? Any ideas
Carla Imbrenda - 16-Oct-15 @ 12:06 PM
I wasn't taught to salute a magpie... Instead on seeing one magpie you put your thumb and index finger together to firm as ring and ask someone to 'break my ring for sorrow' If you are with a friend you say 'magpie saw by two brings good luck for me and you'
neil - 13-Aug-15 @ 9:55 PM
A magpie came onto my deck in front of theWindow door .... Not seen this before. ..
Lucy - 5-Aug-15 @ 9:32 PM
I saw three magpies flew away but what three magpies mean for? But I often see one or two of them but today I saw three magpies for the first times. Can you please explain what it mean?
Radiowoman - 22-Jun-15 @ 7:48 PM
Possible origin of legend Thieving Magpie. In the town where I live, Palaiseau (Paris region) it is said that a servant girl, named Marie, really was hanged for theft of silver cutlery from her employer, some time in the 18th century.However the missing silver was subsequently found in or near a magpie's nest in the church tower.(consider for a moment whether a bird could possibly carry a piece of cutlery which would have weighed more than the bird itself!) .The story goes on, that the householder felt deep remorse at having falsely accured Marie: all he could do to make amends was to pray for her soul.Accordingly, he paid for masses to be said in the church, and I was told at the Town Hall that this appears in the church records. One thing is true: there are dozens of magpies in Palaiseau, and the local Nursing Home is actually called La Pie Voleuse. The french playwrights used the Palaiseau story as the basis for their play, which was again re-worked for Rossini's opera. What do YOU believe?
magpiefriend - 7-Jun-15 @ 7:29 PM
It's worth remembering three points. 1) Magpies will often have a territory around a nest so seeing the same ones routinely is nothing out of the ordinary, you're no going to die. 2) At certain times of year you are far more likely to see them singularly as there will be eggs/chicks in the nest. 3) most superstitions tend to have an element of self fulfilling prophecy. Those that are concerned about them to the point of paranoia tend to bring about their own misfortune and so the cycle rolls forward. I tip my hat and greet a singular magpie but consider it good luck as long as I show that little gesture of acknowledgement. Even that's irrational but I like it and it gives me a little smile ??
MrRedShifter - 5-May-15 @ 8:10 AM
The magpie rhyme is to do with th span of a persons life
Dickie - 28-Nov-14 @ 4:25 PM
@Mysticalmardyme - glad you enjoyed the site.
TimelessMyths - 3-Nov-14 @ 10:14 AM
My grandad always said Thease an my mum always salutes thanks a lot thought I'd just show my appreciation Thankyou whoever made this - bailey
Mysticalmardyme - 31-Oct-14 @ 4:42 PM
does seen by 2 won't come true, when you see a single magpie, been heard of by anyone else?
beki loi - 3-Oct-14 @ 12:31 PM
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