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What is a Magpie?

Nick Doniger
Nick Doniger

The magpie is a bird found in many parts of the world. These birds are related to crows, ravens, and jays, and are known for behavior that is considered a nuisance to humans and other animals. As scavengers, magpies may peck at living or dead animals, and cause damage to human crops.

Yellow-billed and black-billed magpies are the most common types found in North America, generally living on the West Coast, though magpies in other parts of the world may live in warmer climates. One of the traits that sets magpies apart from other birds is the apparent ability to recognize their own reflections in mirrors.

Magpies are known for pecking at livestock.
Magpies are known for pecking at livestock.

Most species of magpies are members of the Corvid family, along with crows, ravens, and jays. The Australian Magpie is a member of the Artamidae family, however. Like ravens and jays, magpies are subject to superstition and are well known for being a nuisance. This birds' squawks range from being whiny sounding to harsh, and the bird is known to sometimes mimic human and animal sounds. Magppies adapt easily to the presence of humans, and may sometimes be unusually bold animals.

Farmers are typically not fond of magpies, as they can cause damage to crops.
Farmers are typically not fond of magpies, as they can cause damage to crops.

The birds are known for damaging crops, pecking at livestock, and stealing poultry eggs and hatchlings. Magpies may be kept away from crops with netting. Frightening tactics, such as human presence and the use of scarecrows, also proves effective in keeping magpies away from crops, livestock, and poultry.

Many species of magpie birds are distinguished by black and white coloration, with a long tail and short wings. As several different types of magpies exist, some variation in appearance exists. The black-billed magpie, for example, is a bit larger than the yellow-billed magpie. Additionally, as its names implies, the beaks are colored differently.

Yellow-billed and Black-billed magpies are the two most common magpies found in North America. The geographic location of the black-billed birds ranges from Alaska to Canada and into California. These birds tend to migrate to lower elevations during the winter. Yellow-billed magpies are found mostly in central to south California, and generally do not stray far.

The magpie is generally found in a cool, dry climate. Fairly open, brushy areas near water are preferable to magpies. Some magpies, however, may live in warmer climates, such as the Australian magpie. This bird is found all across Australia.

A magpie's diet is mostly carnivorous. Known for being scavengers, they often prey upon small dead animals, bird eggs, insects, and even meat from large animals, such as dead bison. Magpies consume small amounts of fruits and grains as well.

Various phenomena make the magpie unique from other birds. Studies from Germany indicate that a magpie is capable of recognizing its own reflection in mirrors. In such studies, colored marks were put right underneath the birds' beaks. When placed in front of mirrors, the magpies saw their reflections and tried to scratch at the colored marks, giving evidence that the birds knew what they were looking at. This trait was previously only believed to be possessed by humans and a few other mammals.

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    • Magpies are known for pecking at livestock.
      By: branex
      Magpies are known for pecking at livestock.
    • Farmers are typically not fond of magpies, as they can cause damage to crops.
      By: Johan Larson
      Farmers are typically not fond of magpies, as they can cause damage to crops.