Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

Fly Away Bird/ Maroubra Magpies

When I was writing 'Fly Away Bird', an essay on grief, signs and magpies, I found out plenty of things I didn't formally know about them. One was that, while magpies stick with a mate for life, unpartnered magpies band together in groups, which can number into the dozens of birds which group together to share the same territory. Although I'd often seen groups of magpies I had never thought much about their social dynamics, although I knew enough about these smart, plucky birds not to underestimate them on any account.

For a few years, when the grief over my close friend's death was most painful, I often went walking on the headland north of Maroubra. When I was there I'd see the same band of young magpies spread out over the lawn, examining the grass for insects. If I sat on the rocks or on the grass, sometimes they'd come up to me. They were more likely to do so if I had a brioche, which was often a part of my visits to the ocean. I'd buy them from the French bakery at the Junction: both me and the mapgies had a taste for them. One such day they surrounded me, singing, and maybe it was just that they wanted crumbs, but I'd also read how magpies recognise people, and readily assess them as friends or foe. I like to think they could sense how grateful I was to be momentarily part of their gang.

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