Montrose Magpies – a wildlife perspective

The magpies of Montrose have always been a bit of a mystery – despite being widespread across the UK, it was only recently that we started recording them on the Montrose Basin reserve. Magpie sightings are so unusual from our visitor centre, in fact, that they go under our ‘less common’ section on our sightings board (accompanied by exotic birds like spoonbills and cranes).

Magpies are members of the corvid family, so are closely related to crows, jackdaws, and ravens. This classification of birds is often considered to be one of the most intelligent. The Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) even has the honour of being the first non-mammal to pass the mirror test, suggesting self-recognition or even self-awareness. They often come up in debates on whether or not animals feel emotions, as magpies have been observed seemingly holding funerals for fallen group members.

Magpies from a distance may appear black and white, but in the right light their feathers are wonderfully iridescent. © Alex Shepherd

The Montrose Magpies – an official Harry Potter Quidditch team?!

This subject change might throw some of you off, but bear with me: Montrose magpies actually appear in the Harry Potter books. In this fictional wizarding world, Montrose is the home of the Quidditch team (the most popular sport amongst witches and wizards), the Montrose Magpies. I’ve always found this team name oddly fitting – magpies are an unusual sighting in Montrose, so a full team of them would be a rare, or even ‘magical’, sight. In the book Quidditch Through The Ages, the Montrose Magpies are described as being one of the most successful Quidditch teams. It makes sense that such an impressive team would be named for the highly intelligent and beautiful bird that is the magpie.

The Montrose Basin Visitor Centre was approached with an exciting opportunity recently. With the release of the newly illustrated Quidditch Through The Ages book, official Quidditch towns across the UK are being awarded with a special banner. Being a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve, the Montrose Basin seemed like the perfect place to proudly display the Montrose Magpies sign.

We arranged for the unveiling of the banner to take place at Sleepyhillock, and yesterday morning it happened! Tens of thousands of pink-footed geese were sat out on the mudflats, occasionally lifting in unison. The backdrop of the Montrose Basin at low tide with the Montrose skyline behind it was perfect. Two of our Wildlife Watch kids (thank you Fern and Euan!), complete with Quidditch robes and broomsticks, posed in front of the banner with the Montrose provost. When the STV came to film some interviews, the pink-footed geese got so loud that they had to pause for a moment. Montrose Basin’s pink-footed geese always rightfully steal the show.

Quidditch Through the Ages Illustrated Edition, written by J.K. Rowling and illustrated by Emily Gravett, is available now in hardback by Bloomsbury Publishing, in aid of Comic Relief and Lumos.

Amazingly, I saw more magpies on the reserve yesterday morning than I can ever remember seeing. On my walk over to Sleepyhillock, I spotted two at Tayock, and at least one flying over the cemetery car park a few times. Later that day, once the banner had been transported over to the visitor centre, we saw two magpies at our feeding station which is unheard of. Were they there to inspect our new magpie-themed banner? Definitely not. But it’s nice to consider.

The banner now lives at the visitor centre. We’re open Thursday-Monday, and you can book your time slot here. Why not come along for a photo with our Official Quidditch Town banner? We’re excited to introduce lots of Harry Potter fans to the magical world of our local wildlife!

Joanna Peaker

Visitor Centre Assistant Manager

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The magpies of Montrose have always been a bit of a mystery – despite being widespread across the UK, it was only recently that we started recording them on the …

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