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'What happened to him?' I said, meeting the eye of a thin magpie through the bars of his cage. Andrew Meads, veteran bird rescuer and proprietor of Safewings wildlife sanctuary at Isham, near Kettering, Northants, related the following case history. A fortnight ago a man driving a stolen car suddenly lost control, mounted the pavement, crashed through a wall and came to a halt in a flower-bed of a suburban front garden. Confronted by the angry house owner as he got out of the car, the driver suddenly whipped out a live magpie from his coat pocket and brandished it at her as if it were a deadly weapon. He then flung the bird in her face and hopped it.
The magpie has been recovering at Safewings for the last month, and I put my face to the bars for a closer look at the convalescent. The cold light of cynicism in the magpie's eye challenged me to surprise him further about anything.
In the next cage a golden mantled rosella was staring at the wall, and beside it a magnificent macaw that had once belonged to a policewoman with marital difficulties. 'Hello!' said Mr Meads. 'Shut the **** up!' replied the macaw. Succeeding aviaries contained barn owls, tawny owls, kestrels, sparrowhawks, buzzards, wood pigeons, mallards, rooks, crows, eagles, parrots, seagulls, finches and kingfishers.
This year Mr Meads and his wife Jaqui have taken in more than a thousand birds from 64 species and released 751 back into …