Calling Coyotes - The Magpie Connection

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

In China, they say the singing of a magpie foretells happiness and good luck. But to the Anglo-Saxon, the presence of the black and white long-tailed bird has a different meaning. In the British Isles they believe that a lone magpie is an ill omen. A bit of rot, you say? Some people take it bloody serious.

This harbinger of bad luck must be warded off. Custom calls for a spot of respect to be paid to the bird. At the least, they say, one should wave, make the sign of the cross or take off his hat.

On the Isle of Man, they say, ‘Good afternoon Mrs. Magpie, how are you and your three children?' Then they nod their head three times.

One Britisher learned to salute the magpie then hold his collar until he saw a four-legged animal.

I think he's onto something. Magpies can often be found shadowing a coyote. When the coyote makes a kill, there is often a scrap or two left over for the bird.

During a muley hunt in Harney County, I saw several magpies. In one instance, we eased into the top of a canyon and set up inside the rimrock. I took out a predator call and blew mournful dying rabbit cries on the instrument, in the hopes of making a buck stand up, or perhaps to draw in a coyote. 

Magpies are often first to investigate the call, but this one came in slow, hopping from tree to tree. The lone bird shadowed two coyotes. The pair trotted in through the tall grass and stood broadside, looking for the source of the sound while the bird made a lazy pass overhead.

My partner passed up a 60-yard shot and the four-legged freeloaders drifted off in the direction from which they'd come.

It reminded me of the many times I'd seen a magpie just moments before or after I saw a coyote running in or running away. The coyote and the magpie are two of the most efficient opportunists making a living on the desert.

The next day we climbed a juniper-studded ridge. In the top of a tree was a lone magpie with his eye on something below him. Another coyote, I was willing to bet.

I pointed my partner toward the top of the hill. When we crested the ridge we saw the coyote. Jeff missed it with the first shot then missed with the second. But the third rolled the running dog at over 100 yards.

I couldn't help but make the connection between the superstition of saluting the magpie three times and the fact that it took a third bullet to bring this dog down.

So is the magpie good luck or bad? It depends on who you ask. If you're calling coyotes and there's a magpie coming in slow, hold onto your collar and keep your eye peeled. Chances are there's a predator on the sneak.

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