Sassy the magpie
By Jenny Donier, Copyright @ March, 22, 1983
As a child growing up we had quite a few wild pets come and go in our house. One of the first was a young magpie that my dad found in late January of 1958 on a cold winter day after hauling garbage to our local dump. A heavy metal object had fallen on the poor bird and broke his leg. We were living in Trout Lake, Washington I the Hollenbeck mill house. My dad was a night watchman for the sawmill. We live right on the edge of Gifford Pinchot national forest, which abounded with wildlife of all sorts.
Dad or one of us kids was always bringing in a wounded or sick forest child and mom's soft heart would melt at it's pain and suffering. Mom was nurse and doctor for many critters over the following years. When daddy brought Sassy home, mom as usual took pity on the poor bird and with splints of small wood she set his leg to mend. Daddy hunted up an old orange crate to keep him away from the cats while his leg healed. An old eye dropper was rounded up to feed him drops of water every half hour for the first couple of days. Us kids set about trying to catch flies to eat and mom made him small hamburger pellet to swallow. Mom was not sure if we could save him or not at first. He just lay on his side for about three days in a listless and dejected state. But mom kept force feeding him and then would cover him up at night with part of an old blanket on the cage.
About the fourth morning that little magpie decided that life was worth living after all. after his first dropper full of water he put up a fight. When mom held out a hamburger pellet for him he grabbed and swallowed it greedily and gulped it down, then began flapping his wings and squawking for more. He became impatient to gobble down the next bite flapping his wings vigorously and righting himself on his one leg awkwardly.
By noon on the fourth day his mischievous streak began to emerge. When anyone passed his cage he would flap his wings and holler for attention. When mom next went to feed him he gobbled the food down and began to peck at the ring on her finger. By the seventh day he was strong enough to let out of the cage. We named him Sassy because of the naughty way he would screech at mom when she finished feeding him and walked away. She would tell him no more and he would set up a blue streak of squawks and screeches calling mom all kinds of dirty names in bird fashion.
Sassy became adept at balancing on one leg and soon was flying all over the house and that is when his thievery began and his pranks. One of his favorite perches was in the living room along an unfinished wall where the rafters and studs met. That is where he would take and stash all his stolen loot and poke it among the insulation. Nothing was sacred to him and no one was exempt from his thievery. He would fly down onto the coffee table and steal cigarette butts from the tray and tear up cigarette packages to get at the shiny foil inside.
My sister and I were always running away from him. He would swoop down on our heads and peck at the barrettes in our hair trying to dislodge them. One of mom's favorite necklaces disappeared and we looked for it everywhere but could not find it. We didn't think to check Sassy's hiding spot.
My Uncle Larry was on leave from the service for six weeks and he lost one of his merit badges. If a nickel, dime or quarter was left on a table it too disappeared. Bits of colored string, needles and pins anything small enough for that bird to carry in his beak and caught his eye would get pirated away. Daddy thought this was pretty funny until one day his glass eye he kept in a dish at the kitchen sink when he was not wearing it disappeared. That is when he got a step ladder and climbed up to Sassy's stash and began to tear away the loose insulation. Suddenly all kinds of junk came falling down Sassy seeing his treasure trove being tampered with went flying at dad's head and pecked his ears and pulled his hair, cussing up a blue streak in bird jargon.
It was not long however that Sassy found a new hiding place above a high kitchen cupboard. He loved to fly down on unsuspecting guests and leave his calling card on their head or peck at the shiny buttons or jewelry of their person. Someone was always calling him a thief or scoundrel. If anyone tried to venture near his hide out, he would be there first, screaming and screeching up a storm, flapping his wings and pecking at hands, heads and pulling hair. If he stole a bright object from your grasp he would fly out of reach and dare you to come and get it.
The house cats hated him and he hated them in turn. He was forever landing on their backs and nipping their tails and ears. It got so if a cat came through the door from outside, it would do so at a full run, ears flattened until it gained the safety of the dining room table or under the safe haven of sofa or armchair. The only time the poor kitties had any peace was after eight p.m. when Sassy was put in his cage for the night.
One of Sassy's favorite foods was raw hamburger and chicken livers. He also ate potato peelings and other vegetables. We learned we had to cage him during meal time too or he would swoop down and attempt to steal food right off your plate or a fork headed toward your mouth.
By April Sassy was well enough to be set free, his leg was totally healed and he could walk on it. The snow had melted and trilliums were blooming in the woods, spring was showing it's green lace and song birds had returned from the southern states. Daddy decided it was time to open the doors to Sassy's freedom and return him to his natural habitat and his own kind. There were several magpies residing in the local area and meadows around the mill house compound. Sassy stayed around the house for several weeks, often he would come winging in to try and steal some shiny object or another or to harass one of the cats or steal dog food from the dogs dish.
That summer the federal government felt the rodent population had gotten way out of hand. Gray diggers could be seen everywhere and a often you would find three or four corpses of dead ones on the way into town which was only four miles. So a law was passed to put out poison grain to have the gray diggers eat in order to cut down on the infestation. Warning signs were posted all over the forest and nearby meadows. But alas birds and squirrels cannot read.
The grain did it's job and more. The population of gray diggers was cut down. but in so doing it wiped out all the gray squirrels of the area, most of the magpies and several other species of birds including the redheaded woodpecker. The red squirrels, some diggers, and chipmunks and crow, and jay survived but the magpies never returned after that. Even though Sassy had been a mischief maker he was an admirable bird and I believe in his own way he was thankful to us for having saved his life and giving him warmth and shelter and companionship during those long wintry months of convalescence.
I didn't see magpies again until my family moved over here to Spokane area in 1991.