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Saluting Magpies

By: Chris Welsh - Updated: 30 Sep 2019 | 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.

What to Read Next...

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Patron saint of fool - 30-Sep-19 @ 9:21 PM
Today I took bus from littlehamton to lancing I saw one magpur then two then when I got to rustlington I noticed that the magpie was following the bus I was on and had followed me all day today on way back home tonight saw 1 and then two and again all the way back home what does it mean
Pie - 11-Apr-19 @ 11:03 PM
I usually always see one magpie and i do salute them with a mark of respect very rare i see two or three. The most i have seen in one day is 12 this was many years ago ive not seen that many since.
Lil - 26-Oct-18 @ 4:47 PM
A few weeks before my wife was due to give birth, a magpie kept knocking on the window, no matter what room. Then it started happening when I was home. Several times. Finally I went outside and confronted the magpie: "Why are you disturbing us?" Then we were told baby had stopped growing according to ultrasounds. But everything seemed normal. We went home to decide. Everything is ok. We can wait until sheis ready, I thought. But the crazy magpie. "OK. Lets call the hospital and pack our stuff." Now we have a fun , joke loving, talkative todler.
Koolgardie - 4-Oct-18 @ 4:22 PM
My sainted Godfathers! Around where I live, the magpie is now just about the commonest bird, well, after pigeons. If I were to salute them, I would spend all day walking around like a military statue!
Dakmus - 14-Sep-18 @ 4:12 PM
One magpie seen by two Means good luck for me and you
Fra - 29-Jul-18 @ 6:46 PM
@kimbo - usually magpies have a partner of family close by. I'm sure if you look further you will see them. It doesn't mean anything to see just one. I've never saluted a magpie and it's never done me any harm. My only problem is that we have a family of them that live at the end of our garden, they are so noisy!
Cas - 4-Jun-18 @ 10:47 AM
Every morning for the last 2 weeks I've seen 1 magpie soon as I look at my window or go out my back door it's there what does this mean .
kimbo - 3-Jun-18 @ 8:49 AM
@Lizzy - somewhere it will have a partner around. It's all superstitious nonsence really.
Freddi - 27-Apr-18 @ 12:09 PM
For the last two day one magpie has been in my front garden when I have moved to the back of the garden it’s been there for a while is my luck going to change or what does it mean
Lizzy - 20-Apr-18 @ 10:36 PM
I have seen 1 magpie twice in one day. But I told it to go away. What does it mean?
ali - 27-Oct-17 @ 1:53 AM
This morning I was awoken by a Magpie calling at my bedroom window. It didn't look in my window, just sat singing. Does that mean something?
geriann - 28-Sep-17 @ 10:17 AM
@Amber - It just means the magpie hasn't got a mate. Nothing to worry about here!
Maddie - 7-Aug-17 @ 12:01 PM
I see magpies all the time usually in ones and twos I just salute the single magpie every time to ward of bad luck and to show respect to the single bird. Usually magpies mate for life so there is always another one near by.
Lil - 6-Aug-17 @ 7:12 PM
Every time I see one magpie I do always salute and say Good morning Mr magpie how are your wife and children. This is something I was brought up to do. I've only been seeing one magpie for the last couple of days, I believe in their superstition. Will definitely be using the break of sorrow!!
Amber - 5-Aug-17 @ 8:20 AM
@Kimber - what do you mean by friendly? Do they come close and or take food from you? Fab :)
Jacq - 3-Aug-17 @ 11:27 AM
I feed magpies and admire their beauty, they keep away locusts type birds the kind that travelle in pacts and raid nests. The smaller birds live well under their watch.as long as there is plenty of food available.They were afraid of me at first but have become more friendly as time has passed.
Kimber - 1-Aug-17 @ 7:22 PM
@Barbiegal5 - the rhyme doesn't go up to 20! 20 is plenty :)
Ollie - 26-Jun-17 @ 12:19 PM
What does 20 magpies mean we just see 20 together on the green
Barbiegal5 - 23-Jun-17 @ 6:51 PM
Does seeing 2/3/4 etc magpies cancel out seeing one or vice versa
Mumov4mags - 12-Jun-17 @ 2:32 PM
Hi just had a magpie starring at me straight in the eye I was wondering what that meant if anyone knows
1984 - 7-Jun-17 @ 4:14 PM
I was sitting on my front porch drinking a cup of tea this morning and a magpie flew straight at me and turned at the last minute and landed on the table i was sitting at.. it was practically 20 cm away from me and it kept staring at me.. i put my hand close to the magpie but it wasnt scared of me and did not fly away.. it stayed right next to me for atleast 5 10 min... What does this mean...
ggg - 3-Jun-17 @ 8:03 AM
Hi . I have seen one magpie nearly everyday for the last week or Two ,Can this be bad ?
denisenie - 11-May-17 @ 7:43 AM
@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
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
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