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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 Cæsars3 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.

1 Cuvier says that this is the jay, the Corvus glandarius of Linnæus; but that they are not more apt at speaking than the other kinds.

2 Cuvier remarks, that these can only be monstrosities.

3 Britannicus, the son of Claudius, and Nero, his stepson.

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