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Magpies Exonerated of Thievery August 22, 2014
Magpie graphic
The magpie's reputation for compulsive thievery of shiny objects has been proven to be a myth.
In European lore, it’s widely alleged that magpies are the bandits of the bird world due to their reputation of making off with shiny objects, such as jewelry.

But psychologists at the University of Exeter’s Center for Research in Animal Behavior say they have busted that myth with proof the birds are actually afraid of new and unfamiliar objects.

By watching wild magpies on the grounds of the university, lead researcher Toni Shephard says that instead of finding evidence of a fascination with shiny objects by magpies, the birds exhibited neophobia, or fear of new things.

“We suggest that humans notice when magpies occasionally pick up shiny objects because they believe the birds find them attractive, while it goes unnoticed when magpies interact with less eye-catching items,” writes Shephard in the journal Animal Cognition.

Illustration: Louise Taylor