How the Magpie Got It’s Colors

One day Tailtiu gathered all the birds together. “I have a special task that needs a volunteer from among you,” she said. “Is there one among you who will step forward to help me with this problem?” The birds avoided looking at Tailtiu, afraid that she would see their reluctance to help her.

“Surely there is one of you who is brave enough to volunteer?” She asked. Still the birds did not look at her but glanced at each other wondering how they could possibly avoid the task that Tailtiu wanted help with. The birds all knew that whatever it was it must be very important which also meant that there must be peril involved for the volunteer. Whichever of the birds that volunteered would have their life changed forever and they all liked the way things were at that time.

Finally, the long-tailed Magpie stepped forward bowed her head in Tailtiu’s direction signifying obedience and acquiescence to her request. The rest of the birds gave a collective sigh of relief which quickly turned to a gasp as Tailtiu roared out at them, “I am very disappointed at your selfish cowardice. I know that you are fearful of the consequences of aiding me but only Magpie was brave enough to step forward. Because of this I will reflect upon how I will punish you all, but Magpie I will bless with camouflage from above in the skies and below on the ground. From this moment forward Magpie you will have black feathers upon your back to hide you from those who would hunt you from above. Your underside will be white to conceal your presence from below as you soar through the skies seeking food below.”

Instantly Magpie’s feathers changed as described by Tailtiu who smiled gently at Magpie and said to her, “Fear not my faithful one for you shall never go hungry because of your bravery.”Turning to the other birds she reproved them, “Remember this day and forget not that your fear will be disciplined in due course and in a manner not to your liking. BEGONE NOW, away from my sight immediately.” Chagrined the birds flew in all directions as quickly as possible to avoid the wrath of Tailtiu.

Magpie watched Tailtiu as the birds flew away, and then asked. “What is the task you need help with Earth Mother?”

Tailtiu looked down at Magpie with gentle love in her eyes and said, “There is no further task little one. Sometimes Mothers just test their children to see who can be relied upon in times of need. You have shown your bravery and faithfulness, Go your way with my blessings and love my true and faithful friend.”

With that Magpie departed with a breast full of pride and love, and that is why the Magpie is black above and white below.


Author’s Note: This is not an ancient Celtic legend, but is an original story that is intended to be enjoyed alone or read aloud to children.


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