The Myth of the Sparkle-Thieving Magpie



I have often seen people in the industry refer to themselves as magpies, and I once had to look it up to understand why. I knew it had something to do with being attracted to sparkling objects, so the name made sense, at least at first.

A magpie is a black and white bird mostly found in Europe—though also present in Asia and western North America—and, if my Google search is any indication, they’re insanely annoying (which is also why people who just won’t stop talking are called magpies). But magpies are also widely considered to be one of the most intelligent animals in the world and can recognize itself in the mirror (one of the only non-mammal species to do so).

According to European folklore, the birds have a compulsive need to steal shiny things, returning them to their nests and collecting small objects over time. So when someone from the industry calls themselves a magpie, they’re both referring to the attraction to shiny objects, and the desire to collect small trinkets—obviously the perfect moniker for any kind of jewelry lover.

Nanis Dancing in the Rain necklace
Dancing in the Rain necklace in 18k yellow gold with diamonds, $12,970; Nanis Italian Jewels

But according to a 2014 study done at the University of Exeter in the U.K., all that is a load of bird food. Magpies don’t actually steal shiny objects and, in fact, are found to be afraid of new things. In the study, “married” magpies were presented with two piles: shiny objects, such as tin foil and metal screws, and those same objects covered in matte blue paint. The piles were put alongside mounds of bird food (in this case, they were nuts). Results found that the birds avoided both object piles almost entirely—and even ate less of the nuts when they were around.

The results are inconclusive, though: Since the test was done with mated magpies, it’s possible that the single ones are still out there stealing diamond rings and building up their nests with bits of silver.

Dana Bronfman Tiny Triangle ring
Tiny Triangle ring in 18k yellow gold, $275; Dana Bronfman

So don’t go changing your Instagram bio just yet—I have a feeling the magpie name has stuck regardless of the research. But as an alternative to shiny, silver objects, might I suggest some of these golden matte marvels instead? The little critters may not prefer these either, but I sure do!

You can read the details of the study on the University of Exeter’s website.

Top: Earrings in gold-plated silver, price on request; Zaremski