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    Black-billed Magpie

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    Overview

    The Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia), also called Common Magpie, is perhaps the most charming bird of the Crow family (Corvidae), which has a reputation for constant chattering and for stealing glittering objects. The black-and-white plumage, very long graduated tail and rounded wings render the Common Magpie unmistakable.

    Recently fledged young appear the same, but with a shorter tail. The species is found throughout most of Eurasia and parts of the United States. It often gathers into small parties when outside breeding season. Flocks of all ages roost in conifers or dense thickets, to reduce the effects of winds and escape predators. Magpies are all-year residents, commonly nesting in the same locality, year after year.

    Like their relatives the crows, magpies are very adaptable and are in no imminent danger of extinction. Common magpies build domed stick nests, often conspicuously in top of a tree or on power pylon. Usually shy and wary, it becomes tame in parks when not threatened. They fly slow and direct, with rapid flapping beats.

    Diet

    Like many crows, it omnivorous, with a robust bill, well adapted to feeding on anything from small animals to eggs, carrion, insects and grain. During the breeding, season magpies consume lots of weevils, ground beetles, and grasshoppers. Ranchers do not favor these birds because they may attack newborn, sickly or recently branded livestock, as well as poultry and wild birds and their eggs.

    In defense of magpies, it may be argued that they render useful service as scavengers and they subsist mainly on agricultural pests. Animals and plant material are generally secondary foods except in winter when seeds and fruits constitute half or more of the diet.

    Nesting Behaviour

    Common magpies build domed stick nests, often conspicuously in top of the tree or on power pylon. Some of these nests become quite historic, being tenanted year by year, added to or repaired each season, and reaching a very large size as each season’s work accumulates.

    The nest of the Magpie can be found in almost every kind of forest tree, while tall thorn bushes, hedges and isolated trees in the fields are frequently selected. The height at which it is usually placed is variable. The female lays 6 – 9 greenish-gray eggs, which are heavily blotched with brown, incubates them for 16-18 days, and broods the young alone. The male feeds and defends the nest occupants with the highest level of parenting care known among the passerines. Young leave the nest at 22 – 28 days.

    Video Credits: Jo Alwood
    Image Credits: Connormah, WikiMedia

    References:

    1. Dixon Charles – Birds’ Nests: An Introduction To The Science Of Caliology
    2. Glen Peter Semenchuk, Federation of Alberta Naturalists – The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta
    3. Alexander Campbell Martin, Herbert Spencer Zim, Arnold L. Nelson – American Wildlife & Plants: A Guide To Wildlife Food Habits
    4. Mark Beaman, Steve Madge – The Handbook Of Bird Identification: For Europe And The Western Palearctic

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