Key facts

Scientific name: Pica pica

Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding pairs: 600,000 territories

Conservation status: Green

Length: 40 – 60 cm

Wingspan: 50 – 61 cm

Weight: 160 – 245 g


Magpies are black and white birds with iridescent metallic bluey-green wings. Male and females look similar although the male is slightly larger. The belly is pure white and they have white markings above the wings and below which can be seen when they are in flight. The tail is long with a glossy purple band near the tip.

Magpies have a black bill, dark brown eyes and black legs and feet.

Juvenile magpies look very similar to adults except the plumage is duller and less glossy and the tail is shorter.


Both sexes build the nests which are mud bowls lined with twigs, grass, rootlets and hair. The nest has two entrances and will be situated in trees or bushes, a few metres above the ground.

Magpies lay 4-9 greenish grey eggs with dark brown speckles. Incubation is about 16-21 days during which the female sits on the nest and is fed by the male.

Magpie chicks fledge at about 25 days but cannot fly very well and will hide in bushes. Family units will stay close together until autumn.

Magpie nests may be parasitized by cuckoos but as they get older they learn how to reject the intruders’ eggs.


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.


Where to see them

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.


Ruslan Mazuryk/xeno-canto

Did you know?

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.

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