Black-billed Magpies, Befriending Humans

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie Photo By Stephen S. Skrzydlo

Identifying Them:

Black-billed Magpies are larger than Jays and have a long tail feather. Their length varies from 17-23 inches tall and their wingspan is about 22-24 inches. They have an interesting voice and has more than one call, go to to listen to their calls.


Like White-tailed Kites, they live mainly in West America among grasslands, meadows, barnyards and fields featuring livestock. They like to be around man-made structures like Barn Owls do. You won’t find them in forests with dense trees and woods, but will find them in open areas.


On Sunday I helped out at the Cascades Raptor Center and while I was there, I saw the Black-billed Magpie. The Magpie was a very friendly bird, people would copy the bird’s song and the Magpie would respond back. They are part of the Corvid family, which includes Ravens and Blue Jays. There are records of Black-billed Magpies being associated with humans in the West US. Lewis and Clark reported that they flew into their tents and stole food. Black-billed Magpies also collect small objects that they find on the roadside or they steal from humans and hoard them in their nest. Being the friendly birds that they are, they are known to take ticks off of animals’ backs like moose, deer and other large animals that aren’t threats or predators to them.

Black-billed Magpies have a special love and care for their fellow Black-billed Magpie friends. When one of their friends have an accident or are killed, they gather many other Magpies and stand around the magpie that had passed and will sing or tweet and basically hold a funeral. A man named Charles Glenn witnessed a funeral that was going on but was for a crow instead of a Black-billed Magpie. Charles Glenn said, “I was aware of a loud cawing one morning and found a number of crows circling above one area of the roof in a highly agitated manner. I leaned out of an upstairs window and discovered a dead adult crow in the rain gutter. Once I retrieved it they all disappeared,” As I noted up above, Black-billed Magpies, crows, jays and ravens are all part of the Corvid family.

Another interesting fact about them is something unexpected. Are you one of those people who stutters or can’t think a thought if someone is staring at you? Black-billed Magpies are the complete opposite, in the Seoul National University in South Korea, an interesting research was done that came to a conclusion that Black-billed Magpies actually think faster when people are looking/staring at them. The researchers found that the Magpies make faster decisions and reactions when we are looking right at them. They noted that Black-billed Magpies have lived by humans for many centuries and have perhaps picked up and learned the ability to read human’s faces and expressions and then making quick actions. To learn more about this go to:

Black-billed Magpie photo by ~Nick Saunders

Black-billed Magpie photo by ~Nick Saunders

Nesting and Nestlings:

Black-billed Magpies have extremely large nests which can sometimes be 30 inches high and 20 inches wide. The female builds and takes care of the inside of the nest while the male lines the outside of the nest with twigs, grass, and leaves. Both male and female chooses the place where they build their nest which is sometimes in roofs of buildings but are mostly in a tree in an open field, farm field, or open woodland.

Mates stay together for life and may mate for life unless one gets eaten in that case the remaining Magpie may finds another male or female. The female lays up to 13 eggs which are greenish-grey and have brown specks. Owls incubate for about a month but Black-billed Magpies incubate for up to 20 days. While only the females incubate and takes care of the eggs, the male feeds the female. Once hatched, both male and female feed their young and then as they get 3-4 weeks old, they are able to fly. The juvenile magpies feed with their parents and then leave the nest to find other juvenile magpies.

Predator and Prey:

Black-billed Magpies’ predators include eagles and hunters like the Great Horned Owl. They will follow their predator and eat the remains of their kill.

Magpies are Omnivores and eat berries and plants and also carrion, rodents, and eggs. Like raccoons, they will eat garbage or food lying around on the street like crows do. They will hop and forage along the ground and roadside looking for food or road kill. I recently observed that they will flip over things looking for food. I was in the Cascades Raptor Center and saw the Black-billed Magpie lift up its food bowl in search for food.

Just as they hoard small things from people in their nests, these magpies make caches of food in the ground in a hoarding fashion. These cashes are covered with leaves and grass. Several fake caches are made before the real one because many magpies’ caches are robbed by other magpies or other Corvids. Since they have made so many false caches, they use their amazing sense of small to relocate their real cache. Black-billed Magpies love to steal food from other birds’ nests to feast on or to save for later. You can attract magpies to your garden/backyard by hanging suet feeders or leaving out chicken scraps and peanuts.

Random, Interesting facts:

~Black-billed Magpies can recognize their image in the mirror.

~They are nonmigratory and stay in the Western United States year round.

~They will live in flocks of 6-10 Black-billed Magpies.

~In captivity, they may live for about 15 years.

A special thanks to Stephen S. Skrzydlo and Nick Saunders.


This entry was posted in Bird Watching, nonfiction, Raptors and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s