A family of magpies has been sticking close this summer, flying between our property and the properties of our neighbours. There are two adults and four young ones, as far as I can tell (a fifth young one died about three weeks ago during the cool, rainy spell, when it still could not fly). Despite their incessant chatter, bad reputation, and brazen attitude (hopping up on the front step to eat cat food we leave out for a stray), I have always kind of liked magpies. I'd never seen one before moving to this area in 1999.
Two weeks ago, however, I started noticing marigold petals strewn in the garden, having been pulled out of the flowers. I caught one of the young magpies in the act soon after. Little bugger. They don't seem to eat the petals, but just pull them out for the fun of it. I looked online for information about this, and found several other blog articles written by gardeners who had experienced the same thing. (Apparently, magpies like to pick apart calendula, too). The irony is that we plant marigolds, with their strong smell, to keep away pests!
I was willing to deal with losing a few marigolds, but two nights ago, R. caught a magpie picking at the center of a red cabbage in the north garden. He shooed him away and put up two stakes with tin foil sheets, hopeful that this would deter the birds. When I went out to water and check the garden today, I discovered that they had done this to almost all of the red cabbage - pecked the center down to nothing - but had, for the most part, left the green cabbage alone. I don't think the red cabbage will be able to form heads now. Only two in the north garden look like they have a chance of developing heads.
We have never had birds do this kind of damage before. Are they bored? Attracted to bright colours? Demanding more cat food? I don't know. The only pests we've had to deal with have been insects (and once a rabbit on the loose chewed off my sunflower seedlings). R. has installed more poles in north garden, rock bed (cabbage and beets), and the strawberry patch with old CDs hanging from them. We'll see if this keeps the magpies out of our garden.
Update - June 30th - went out this afternoon to discover a zucchini seedling uprooted from it's container and flipped on it's side. Cut cleanly off from it's stem. Arhg!
Update - July 1st - this morning, I discovered that the first two Hutterite Soup beans that germinated yesterday have been cleanly snapped off along their stems. You guessed it: magpies.