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 MagpiesSeems 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 behavioursMagpies 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 SuperstitionsMagpies 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 BadYet 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.