CHAP. 59.—THE PIE WHICH FEEDS ON ACORNS.
The magpie is much less famous for its talking qualities than
the parrot, because it does not come from a distance, and yet
it can speak with much more distinctness. These birds love
to hear words spoken which they can utter; and not only do
they learn them, but are pleased at the task; and as they con
them over to themselves with the greatest care and attention,
make no secret of the interest they feel. It is a well-known
fact, that a magpie has died before now, when it has found itself
mastered by a difficult word that it could not pronounce.
Their memory, however, will fail them if they do not from
time to time hear the same word repeated; and while they are
trying to recollect it, they will show the most extravagant joy,
if they happen to hear it. Their appearance, although there
is nothing remarkable in it, is by no means plain; but they
have quite sufficient beauty in their singular ability to imitate
the human speech.
It is said, however, that it is only the kind1
of pie which
feeds upon acorns that can be taught to speak; and that
among these, those which2
have five toes on each foot can be
taught with the greatest facility; but in their case even, only
during the first two years of their life. The magpie has a
broader tongue than is usual with most other birds; which
is the case also with all the other birds that can imitate the
human voice; although some individuals of almost every kind
have the faculty of doing so.
Agrippina, the wife of Claudius Cæsar, had a thrush that
could imitate human speech, a thing that was never known
before. At the moment that I am writing this, the young
have a starling and some nightingales that are being
taught to talk in Greek and Latin; besides which, they are
studying their task the whole day, continually repeating the
new words that they have learnt, and giving utterance to
phrases even of considerable length. Birds are taught to
talk in a retired spot, and where no other voice can be heard,
so as to interfere with their lesson; a person sits by them, and
continually repeats the words he wishes them to learn, while
at the same time he encourages them by giving them food.