Magpies belong to the genus Pica, which supplies the latter half of the bird’s common name. Magpies are corvids, along with crows, ravens, rooks and jays, among others. These are smart birds. Magpies are among the few non-mammal species able to recognize their own reflection in mirrors. They are tastefully beautiful birds, elegant and classy, with a touch of the aristocratic. In the final lines of “Lord Mayor Magpie,” Eric Ormsby plays with that idea:
“. . . this debonair
line dancer in mid-air,
with morning-coat manners,
stiff tailed, caustic of caw,
parliamentary of demeanour,
our nimble-kneed Astaire
“who refuses all obeisance
to Lagerfeld or Wintour.
His black eye crackles, his attire is dour.
He favours classic all-occasion wear.”
Ormsby has often devoted poems to birds, though not in the Mary Oliver spirit of sensitivity and nature worship. He happily anthropomorphizes them, turning them into character studies. I once called him an “ornithological/Theophrastian maker of verses.”