"Other birds collect twigs for their nests. Magpies steal jewels for theirs."
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. A common plot is for something to go missing, accusations of theft to be thrown around at everyone in sight, and the magpie to be revealed as the culprit at the last minute.
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 (for when cats
are too much of a cliché).
See also Magpies as Portents
, which is about the association of certain numbers of magpies with bad (or sometimes good) luck and the rituals for warding the bad luck off.
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Anime and Manga
- In Pokémon, crow Pokemon Murkrow has appeared sometimes looking for and snatching shiny objects, such as Ash's badges.
- Tintin story "The Castafiore Emerald" takes its plot resolution from La Gazza Ladra (see Opera below). The Eureka Moment comes when Tintin hears that Bianca Castafiore, still missing her emerald, will be performing in said Rossini opera — sure enough, he finds the jewel in a magpie's nest.
- A minor Batman villain was named Magpie for her kleptomania and the unfortunate birth name Margaret Pye.
- Alluded to in Blacksad with Cotton, a blind magpie who's always dreamed of going to Las Vegas.
- 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.
- Alluded to in His Dark Materials — one of the parallel universes is colloquially referred to by the name of the only city the main characters ever visit, Cittegazze — "city of magpies". It's heavily infested with Spectres, ghostly things that attack adults and steal their souls but leave children alone, which is why the city is by now a (pre-)Teenage Wasteland.
- In Alethea Kontis's Enchanted, a set of pirates sent to deliver gifts are Magpie and Crow, about which there is the line, "Mama would no doubt describe them as dirty rotten scoundrels with eyes on the silver."
- Daniel Handler's Adverbs features magpies throughout. In one story, a magpie steals a lost diamond from Handler's actual life and delivers it to a story written by another author entirely. He's a fairly odd bird himself.
- Trader Mags of Guardians of Ga'Hoole and her assistant Bubbles have been known to collect artifacts and other stuff humans (or Others, as the owls call them) had left behind after they disappeared. Otulissa dislikes her because she was collecting trash...until she checks the stuff out in "The Shattering" and praises the magpie.
Live Action TV
- In the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town", the Slitheen disguised as Margaret Blaine described the Doctor as having a "magpie mind", i.e., one that's always collecting bits of information.
- In Elementary episode "Dead Clade Walking", Sherlock and Joan are trying to find a smuggler who deals in valuable but illegal artifacts. Said smuggler is called "the Magpie".
- 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.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, there is a subquest to find a missing baby rattle, which turns out to be in a bird's nest.
- The bird-like Kig-Yar (aka "Jackals") of Halo are directly compared to magpies as a whole for their thieving and pirating ways, with the Skirmisher subspecies being particularly attracted to shiny objects.
- Blackwing, Vaarsuvius' raven familiar in The Order of the Stick, has a penchant for "baubles". It's mostly Played for Laughs, though at one point he does snag a useful ioun stone when he attacks an enemy caster.
- Heckle and Jeckle are two wise-cracking magpies who, by trait, con their way into getting whatever they need. They also make life miserable for two dogs, a lugubrious bloodhound (Dimwit) and a tough bulldog (unofficially named Chesty).
- 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.
- This animated short, Peck Pocketed, is about a magpie stealing an old lady's belongings.
- Stoked: In "To Catch a Reef", a thieving seagull cases Reefs to be accused of being a thief.
- Ruffles and his gang from Count Duckula.
- One Mr. Bean The animated Series'' episode had one of these, and naturally Bean was framed for its theft.
- 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 originally a euphemism or "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).
- In Australian Rules Football, Collingwood's nickname of "the Magpies" comes from both the club's colors of black and white, and the reputation of the Collingwood area at the time of the team's founding (and indeed, for decades thereafter): it was widely seen as the home of thieves and other criminals.