The Eurasian magpie is a large black and white bird with a harsh, chattering call. It is considered a pest by many due to its predation of the eggs and nestlings of other species of birds, and is closely associated with a number of superstitions and omens. Despite this the magpie is highly intelligent with the ability to use tools, play games, and count.
Breeding pairs: 600,000 territories
Family: Crows & allies
Magpies have a black back and vent with iridescent metallic bluey-green wings. They have large white patches on the scapulars and white marks on the primaries which are visible when the wings are extended. Their chest is black and the belly is pure white. The long tail is iridescent blue-green with a glossy purple band near the tip.
Magpies have black heads, a strong black bill, dark brown eyes, and black legs and feet. Male and female magpies are similar but the female is smaller.
Juveniles resemble the adults except the plumage is duller and less glossy and the tail is shorter.
Magpies situate their nests in trees or bushes a few metres above the ground. Both adults build the nest which is a mud bowl lined with twigs, grass, rootlets and hair, surrounded by a large domed structure made from larger twigs that has two entrances. Construction takes about 5 or 6 weeks.
Magpies lay 4-9 greenish grey eggs with dark brown speckles, which are incubated by the female alone for 16-21 days. The male will feed her while she is on the nest.
Chicks are altricial and are fed by both parents. They fledge at 25-29 days but cannot fly very well and will remain hidden in bushes for some time. Magpies produce one brood a season and family units will stay close together until autumn.
Magpies are scavengers and omnivorous and during the spring and summer will eat invertebrates such as beetles, flies, caterpillars and worms. In the winter they will eat more plants such as fruit, berries and grains. They will also eat small mammals and during breeding season are known to take other birds’ eggs and young. When food is scarce, magpies will hoard food, placing it in a hole in the ground and covering it with grass or leaves.
Magpies can be found all over the UK except in the Highlands of Scotland. You will see them in farmlands, thickets, meadows, lightly wooded areas and towns and cities including parks and gardens.
Magpies are one of only a handful of animals that can recognize themselves in a mirror and the only species of bird to have demonstrated this ability.