At the moment this is mentioned in passing on the page for One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, but doesn't have anything to do with that rhyme except for both being about magpies. This TRS discussion concurred that it deserves its own trope.
"Other birds collect twigs for their nests. Magpies steal jewels for theirs."
for Thieving Magpie
, Magic The Gathering
An Animal Stereotype
: Magpies (and by extension other corvids such as Ravens and Crows
) have a compulsion to steal, particularly in regard to shiny things.
This stereotype is based on the fact that magpies collect shiny objects to line their nests in order to attract a mate. Easy to see how people might think this was like a small-scale version of a Dragon Hoard
This stereotype has also provided a handy Animal Motif
for the occasional fictional jewel thief (because cats
are such a cliché).
See also One for Sorrow, Two for Joy
, which is about the association of certain numbers of magpies with bad luck and the rituals for warding it off.
- Quoth the Raven of Discworld, a familiar of Death and friend to the Death of Rats, always pounces on shiny things in the vain hope that they might be eyeballs. He claims that this tendency is where his genus' reputation for thievery comes from.
- In the Arabian Nights tale "The Stolen Necklace", said necklace is actually stolen by a magpie, but a holy woman is unjustly accused.
- Invoked in The Magic of Oz where Kiki Aru, having learned a transformative magic word, turns himself into a magpie in order to steal a piece of gold from an old man.
- Lenore, Dethany's raven in On the Fast Track has a fondness for shiny things, including stealing people's keys.
- One Summoning familiar in Runescape is the Magpie, which is useful for thieves. Its special ability can boost the player's thieving skill.
- Blackwing, Vaarsuvius' raven familiar in The Order of the Stick, has a penchant for "shinies". It's mostly Played for Laughs, though at one point he does snag a useful ioun stone when he attacks an enemy caster.
Occurred in an episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog
, where a crow snatched shiny things and kept them in his nest, leaving Clifford to get blamed for stealing.
- In Swedish the name of the bird is skata, which can be read as "will take". It's not the actual meaning of the word, but is sometimes pointed out as an accurate interpretation. The word skata was actually an euphemism or a "noa word" of skjora/skjura. If you used their real name they could come and steal your soul.
- Rooks have a similar reputation: an archaic/dialect word for a den of thieves or pickpocket-infested neighbourhood is a "rookery", and to "rook" someone is to steal from them or defraud them.
- A person might be described as a "magpie" if they're an obsessive hoarder or Collector of the Strange (not necessarily of stolen goods).