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Magpie magpie

Identification and Pictures

(Pica Pica)magpie

Black-billed magpies are large slender black, and white birds about 18 to 19 1/2 inches, with long wedge shaped tails.  The black wings and tail show iridescent blue-green.  This is especially evident in their tail as they fly.  They have large white patches in the wings.  They have long thick black bills.  The sexes look alike.  Juveniles look similar but are duller.

Magpies are known for their tendency to steal shiny objects and hide them.

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.



A recent study at Goethe University in Frankfurt shows that magpies can recognize themselves.  Helmut Prior place colored dots on the bird's necks.  When mirrors were place in front of them they would try to remove the dots, indicating they recognized the image in the mirror.  This is the first time this type of intelligenc has been shown in non-mammals.

Black-billed Magpie Sound

Their voice is a harsh wah-wah-wah, as well as variety of squawks and chatters.  Sound    Sound 2

Preferred Habitat

Magpies are permanent residence in much of the western U.S., Canada, and Alaska.  They like brushy country, forest edges, stream sides, ranches, and farmland.  They are often seen in flocks.  During winter they will roost in grooves of trees.

Breeding and Nesting

Magpie pairs usually form up while they are in wintering flocks.  During courtship the male chases the female, displaying his white wing patches.  A pair of magpies will stay together for life.  Often they will nest in small colonies.  Both male, and female help build a very large domed canopy of sticks, and mud.  Inside the canopy will be a cup shaped nest of mud or manure, lined with grass, hair, and other materials.  The nest is built in a tree or bushes, and will have an entrance on both sides.  Females will incubate 6 to 9 eggs for around 18 days.  Their eggs vary in color from blue-green to cream, and have brownish blotches.  The male will bring her food while she incubates, and the two of them will take care of the young birds.  In 3 to 4 weeks the young birds will leave the nest, and join with other broods.  The parents will feed their own fledging for another 3 to 4 weeks.


Black-billed magpies eat mostly insects, but they are opportunists, and omnivorous.  They also eat berries, nuts seeds, bird eggs, small rodents, and carrion.  They forage mainly on the ground searching for food by using their bill to flip over debris.  They will follow predators to clean up after a kill.  Magpies are known for preying on the nests of other birds.  They are often seen on the backs of large animals such as cattle, where they eat large quantities of ticks.

To learn about other favorite birds click here.

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