In a column for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (not available online), Betsy Robinson describes a magpie's efforts to entice her puppy away from a meaty bone by pulling its tail, then by bringing a tennis ball over and presenting it to the puppy. Neither trick worked to get the magpie a treat, but they demonstrated a "a unique behavior among animals: problem solving." Pondering the magpie, she came to the conclusion that "The magpie has everything: good looks, brains, tenacity and cunning, and is a consummate survivor" - perfect for our state bird. Unlike our current migrating state bird, the western meadowlark, "The black-billed magpie (Pica pica) embodies the spirit of people who live in Montana. Magpies stick it out all winter with us, providing us with a bit of entertainment and flash during the long, cold white months." The magpie is a sociable bird who knows how to hunker down when needed, how to wait out the long winters and have fun doing it. But, like the wild turkey in the competition for our national bird, its virtues are passed over for a flashy visitor; so I guess Montana is at least following a good American tradition.
Still, watching my parents, after 46 years of Montana winters, prepare to go south the first of November, it occurs to me that maybe the meadowlark has a place in representing Montana, too. I wonder if a state can have two official birds?