are birds afraid of shiny things

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

Rossini’s 1815 opera,The Thieving Magpie tells of a household maid who nearly goes to the gallows for stealing silver from her employers. At the last instant, it’s revealed that the silver thief was actually a magpie that had been hiding items in the church tower.

The opera was so popular in its day that it’s believed to have helped cement the devious reputation of the magpie. Today, it “seems” common knowledge that the Eurasian Magpie is, by nature, drawn to snatch up and fly off with shiny things.

But scientists at Exeter University put the perception to the test. They placed food alongside shiny and painted objects and then waited for the magpies to come investigate. The result? The opposite of what everybody expected: The magpies were much more cautious around novel, flashy objects—and less likely to approach the food.

Magpies are very curious, just like their relatives, the jays and crows. They may sometimes pick up shiny things, but they don’t show any preference for shiny over dull. A magpie’s more likely to grab your sandwich than your silver.

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Jay McGowan.

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are birds afraid of shiny things

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

The Thieving Magpie, an opera by Rossini from 1815, tells the story of a housemaid who almost hangs herself for stealing silver from her employers. The silver thief turns out to be a magpie who had been concealing objects in the church tower at the last second.

The opera was so well-liked in its day that it’s thought to have contributed to the magpie’s cunning reputation. These days, it “seems” to be common knowledge that the Eurasian Magpie is naturally drawn to objects that sparkle and flies off with them.

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Magpies, like their relatives the crows and jays, are inquisitive They don’t exhibit a preference for shiny objects over dull ones, though they occasionally may pick them up. Your sandwich is more likely to be taken by a magpie than your silverware.


Suspicion of the bird is common in folklore and myth.

Magpies are frequently connected to the devil and seen as messengers of bad luck in western Europe and North America.

Shakespeare mentioned and bemoaned about magpies’ chattering, which is when the negative associations with them began.

According to other legends, Noah’s ark contained only birds.

Superstitious people frequently greet and salute magpies in an effort to ward off bad luck.

A similar plot can be found in the Tintin comic “The Castafiore Emerald,” which centers on a prized emerald that a magpie steals.

However, researchers at the University of Exeter have disproved the legend, demonstrating that magpies are not the sly robbers we once believed them to be.

A set of wild magpies and some kept at a rescue facility were the subjects of several experiments conducted by the researchers.

They were shown shiny and non-shiny objects in carefully regulated settings, and their responses were noted.

The university’s Centre for Research in Animal Behavior’s lead researcher, Dr. Toni Shephard, stated: “We did not find evidence of an unconditional attraction to shiny objects in magpies.”

Rather, every object elicited reactions that indicated neophobia, or the fear of unfamiliarity.

We propose that while people are aware of when magpies interact with less visually striking objects, they are unaware when the birds periodically pick up shiny objects because they think the objects are attractive.

Therefore, rather than being supported by evidence, it appears likely that the folklore surrounding them is the product of cultural generalization and anecdotes. ’.

Shiny metal screws, tiny foil rings, and aluminum foil were used in the study, which was published in the journal Animal Cognition.

are birds afraid of shiny things

The scientists conducted a number of tests on wild magpies in the university’s grounds as well as a group of magpies that had been rescued (picture). In 64 tests, magpies only touched a shiny object twice. On both occasions, a silver ring was picked up and thrown away right away.

The original silvery shine was retained by half of the screws and rings, while the other half were painted a matt blue color.

In the experiments, a pile of food in the form of nuts was situated 11 inches (30 cm) from a surface where shiny and non-shiny objects were placed.

In 64 tests, wild magpies only touched a shiny object twice, according to the researchers. Both times, someone picked up and threw away a silver ring.

The blue and shiny objects were both sidestepped or ignored. The magpies frequently showed cautious behavior by eating less when the objects were close by.

No contact was made with any of the objects during the study conducted with captive birds.

“Remarkably little research has investigated the cognitive mechanisms of magpie behavior,” stated co-author Dr. Natalie Hempel de Ibarra.

“Magpies are capable of sophisticated mental feats, such as mirror self-recognition, retrieval of hidden objects, and remembering where and when they have hoarded what food item,” according to other large-brained members of the crow family with complex social systems.

When shiny objects are new and unexpected, magpies choose to avoid them rather than being incessantly drawn to them. ’.


Do shiny things scare birds?

Things to scare birds away Flags that move in the wind are the cheapest, most effective ways to scare birds. Predator statues such as lifelike scarecrows, owls, coyotes, snakes or cats that can be moved around every few days. Shiny objects such as old CDs, foil pans or silver reflective tape.

Do birds like shiny things?

Ravens, crows, magpies, and to some extent Jackdaws and Jays. Rooks do in Europe. The whole family is attracted to shiny objects to put in their nests, or just out of curiosity. The whole Crow family (Corvidae) is very intelligent and curious, so their curiosity is attracted to colorful and shiny things.

Are birds afraid of foil?

Although we can’t say that aluminum foil is the best visual scare tactic to use for birds, the effort is there. Smaller birds are easily scared away by visual deterrents that use reflection and movement. So, in theory tin foil can help deter repel birds but it is definitely not the recommended solution.