Birds

Forget my £2m art… just save Maggie the magpie from the flames!

What would you save if you could rescue just one thing from your burning home? It’s a question all of us contemplate occasionally — but when I confronted it in August last year I didn’t hesitate.As I watched the flames engulf the upper storeys of my 12th-century manor house in East Sussex, my only thought was for Maggie, the tiny magpie chick I had rescued from our cat three days earlier.’She’s in a cage by the Aga. She’ll be hungry,’ I told the lead fireman who had valiantly offered to go back into the blazing house to save her.  Ivan Massow built an incredible bond with his magpie Maggie during their year togetherIn that moment of crisis I had no thought for possessions. I had a collection of artworks — vastly under-insured, because I’m cavalier about such things — which included some valuable Tracey Emins. I didn’t consider them for one second.Regrettable as it is to lose the belongings we amass over the years, they’re all just things. But Maggie was a sentient, dependent little being, and all I could think about was her distress as the kitchen became a furnace.A couple of artworks — a portrait of me, naked, by artist Jonathan Yeo and a painting by Tracey of myself and my son Theo — were salvaged. Other than that, my entire collection — worth around £2 million — went up in smoke.Theo, then four, was safely by my side. Our three dogs were there with us, too. I knew Twinkle our cat — canny and fleet of foot as she is — would have made her escape and fled across the garden the second she smelt smoke. (Indeed, I found her after wandering the streets for an hour, calling her name.)But Maggie the magpie was captive and entirely dependent on me, and as the fireman emerged, brandishing her little cage — her small, quivering form inside — my heart leapt with joy.She was safe; a gift that carried me through the trauma of so much loss.Last week I said a tearful goodbye to this loyal, cheeky little bird who had been my constant companion for 13 months, as she made her fledgling flight towards freedom at a wildlife sanctuary in Lincolnshire.  In that moment of crisis, Mr Massow (pictured with his then-partner Ed and his son Theo) had no thought for possessions The flames engulfed the upper storeys of Mr Massow’s 12th-century manor house in East Sussex. Pictured: The aftermath of the fire at the houseDuring the year and a bit she was with me, I had grown to love her as a parent does a child.She came to me, a bedraggled waif, after I had heard a commotion in the garden and assumed a pair of magpies were defending their nest from a squirrel. I went out to investigate but found nothing.Then, half an hour later, Twinkle placed a trophy on the back doorstep: a tiny magpie chick, perhaps a couple of weeks old, looking almost prehistoric with her outsize beak, long neck and spiky sheaths of wing-feathers.She had tiny droplets of blood on her body, from the cat’s claws or teeth, but she was alive. I cradled her in my hand, felt the pulse of her tiny, fluttering heart.I’m used to finding injured animals and nursing them back to health so I already had a little cage. I settled her in it gently, placing her on a warm towel, and tried to find out what she would like to eat. Magpies are carnivorous, my research revealed, and they are a gr
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