Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Details About The Black-billed Magpie

  • General Information

    The Black-billed Magpie's head, neck and back are glossy black with a metallic green/violet sheen. The belly and shoulders are pure white. White markings on the primary feathers are visible in flight. Its long, pointed tail is black with bronze/green iridescent colors and is more than 50% of total length. The bill and legs are black. Males are 20% larger than females. This species is almost identical in appearance to the European Magpie. 

    Latin Name: Pica hudsonia
    Class: Aves
    Order: Passeriformes
    Family: Corvidae
    Length: 17-24 inches
    Weight: 5-7.5 ounces
    Wingspan: 22-24 inches
    Common Name: Pie d'Amérique (French)
    Etymology: pica (Latin) -  referring to “pied,” black and white coloring; hudsonia – from the Rocky Mountain region; magpie – “mag” is a nickname for a chatterbox.

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    Magpies fly high, often for long distances. Its level flight is relatively steady with rowing wingbeats.

    The Magpie's common call is a nasal, rising jeeek. This species also has a harsher, lower rek, rek, rek, rek and other variations. The Black-billed's calls are a higher pitch than the European Magpie. Numerous other calls exist, including begging calls by females to their mate or by young to their parents, and distress calls when caught by predators. Magpies are skilled at mimicking other birds and sounds.

    The Black-billed Magpie is often found in open country with thickets and riparian areas such as meadows, grasslands or sagebrush. It is also common in cities as well. They prefer dense trees and shrubs for roosting to protect from wind and predators.

  • Nesting

    Magpie pairs build large nests which take forty to fifty days to complete. Both the male and female build a sturdy domed bowl of sticks and mud, lined with hair, grass, bark, vines, needles, and rootlets. The nest is located in a tree, shrub or on a utility pole. Small hawks or owls will often use old magpie nests. Magpie pairs often mate for life, unless something happens to one of the pair. The breeding season is from late March to early July. They nest once a year, but will re-nest if the first attempt is not successful. The female could lay up to thirteen eggs, but usually 4-7. Eggs are greenish grey with brown marks and are 1.3 inches long. The young fledge after three to four weeks, feed with the adults for two months, and then fly off with other juveniles.

  • Distribution

    Magpies are common west of Mississippi River and north through western Canadian provinces into Alaska. They are year-round residents in the majority of their territory, although some may move south or to lower elevations for the winter. They were persecuted for their habits of stealing game-bird eggs during the first half of the 20th century, and were often trapped or shot. Others died from eating baited meat for coyotes and other predators. Today, populations are stable, and may be expanding eastward.  

  • Food

    Omnivorous birds, magpies eat a variety of seeds and animal prey, foraging mostly on the ground for invertebrates, grain, acorns, carrion and small mammals. They will often eat pet food or garbage left outside. These birds are also a predator of other birds’ nests and will land on large mammals and eat ticks on them. Some of the ticks are cached for later consumption. Undigested food is regurgitated in pellets. Outside of breeding season, birds will often form loose flocks. The dominant birds in the flock will steal food from others. Aggression is observed at food sources.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    Black-billed Magpies have some swagger. They hop and walk on the ground with a swaggering and confident gait as if to say, who's got it…I DO!

    Do Magpies really covet diamond rings? Researchers say its a myth. “They’re incredibly inquisitive and they play with everything,” Birkhead says. “If your Magpie picks up a pen you don’t bat an eyelid. But if it picks up your wedding ring, you take note.”