There are many reasons why baby birds fall out of their nests—broken branches, aggressive siblings, desperation after the death of their parents—all are possible. For Fred, an unfledged magpie, the reason is unknown. Suffice to say that one day my friend Megan heard a loud squawking and took pity on the scrawny unfeathered chick she found struggling on the ground.
From the first day Fred was a voracious eater, consuming chopped up egg yolk from a pair of tweezers before moving on to minced meat from a saucer. As soon as each morsel was consumed his cry begged for more, “Feed me! Feed me!” At first Fred snuggled in a towel inside Megan’s cottage to keep warm and safe. As he grew he migrated to a couch on the verandah from where he could poke his beak through the fly mesh to attract Megan’s attention where she sat at her table. “Feed me! Feed me!” was the never ending cry.
Panzer, Megan’s Rottweiler, also favoured the same couch. Ever the gentle soul he adopted Fred and let him ride around on his back. When other magpies swooped at Fred he raced across to the large dog and nestled between his paws, a safe haven. His other favourite place was riding on Megan’s old felt hat as she busied about tending her horses.
Fred’s feathers grew into full plumage yet still he didn’t fly. In desperation Megan clambered onto the back of her ute and threw the magpie into the sky. Mirroring our hearts Fred plummeted before flapping into an ungainly glide. First flight had been achieved. After a few more prompts Fred soon learnt the skill, revelling in his newfound freedom yet still retreating to Panzer’s paws when danger threatened.
An old dog, Panzer died one night on the couch. Fred wandered the garden and paddocks at a loss without his friend, eventually leaving home as the call of nature beckoned. He still visited from time to time, landing without warning on Megan’s hat with a flap and a squawk. One day he arrived at the verandah with a partner and young fledglings of his own or, as it turned out, her own. Fred was actually Freda! It seemed she had brought her new family to show Megan.
Megan moved away to live with her own partner, but members of the community still claim that if they wander out among their horses they sometimes have a magpie land on their hat. Freda still likes a free ride.
This story provided the basis for Louise rescuing the baby magpie in Brumbies in the Mist.