Caught by the River

The Magpie

Mat Bingham | 21st November 2019

Mat Bingham photographs Maggie the Magpie, a frequent visitor to his windowsill

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.” —
Edgar Allen Poe

I awoke from my slumber not to the rapping at my chamber door, but tapping at the bedroom window. The dawn chorus was drowned out by the avian jackhammering of a female magpie. Most days she wakes us up at dawn and we have named her Maggie (rather imaginatively). She perplexes me; my movements in the kitchen easily spook her whilst she pecks at the fat balls hanging from the rusty wrought iron feeding station. Always she has one eye it seems, on the kitchen window, looking for movement — and at the first sign of me she is gone. But as I sit at my desk upstairs working, she perches on the windowsill to watch.  No more than three feet from me she tilts her head slightly and looks past her own reflection into the cluttered bedroom. What is she searching for?  

I consider opening the window to see if she will come in. She stares at me as I move around the room, turning her head to keep one eye on me at all times.  She refrains from taking flight and after a few seconds’ pause, begins tapping on the glass again. Conventional thinking would say she is attacking her own reflection, guarding her breeding territory, but I’m not sure I believe that. 

I worry she will not be around long. Eventually she is likely to be caught by the farmer’s trap if she does not succumb to one of the many other trials of life. Her odds of making it through the next twelve months are less than even but I have grown used to her being around.

I often while away the time when I should be working, thinking about why she comes to the window, but I can’t seem to figure it out. 

I search the internet for advice and buy a book on magpies, which I consume with interest, but there is no mention of this behaviour — other than to say they are really clever birds. I wish I had an answer. I wish I had some really fascinating revelation I could share with you, but I don’t.

Then one day, she stopped coming to the window and I am no nearer to understanding what she wanted from me. I admit I am all out of ideas — if anyone has a theory I would love to hear it. Email me via my website,