Idaho Nature Probe

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Idaho Fish and Game's Wildlife Express (January 2004)

Digital Atlas of Idaho

USGS- Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


Cornell Lab of Ornithology

National Wildlife Federation



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Exploring the effect of black-billed magpie presence at bird feeders

Exploring the effect of feeder placement in attracting birds to a feeder

Exploring the effect of food choice at bird feeders

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Black-Billed Magpie
Pica hudsonia

You don't need to travel to the mountains or the desert to watch wildlife. Black-billed magpies are common birds in Idaho and are year-round residents in urban as well as rural areas.  Black-billed magpies are the only species of magpie found in Idaho.

Black-billed magpies are members of the passerine order, which includes perching birds and songbirds. They are members of the corvid family, which also includes ravens, crows, and jays. A group of magpies are called a tittering, a tiding, a murder, a flock, or a charm.

Black-billed magpies are black and white with long black tails that are at least half of their body length. They are a larger bird, measuring between 18 and 24 inches long. They have a black head and chest, white belly and shoulders, and white patches on their wings. Their tails and wings have iridescent feathers which gives them a bluish or greenish shine. They have black bills (from which they are named) and black eyes. Both sexes look similar.

Like other corvids , black-billed magpies are very vocal, even rowdy. The voice is a rapid, nasal mag? mag? mag? or yak yak yak. (To hear the magpie call, go to the NatureSong website  Where magpies are not harassed, they can be extremely bold, but in areas where they have been harassed, they become quite wary.

Biologists believe the corvid family to be among the smartest of all birds. Magpies will flip items over to look for food, follow predators to pick at leftovers, and sometimes steal food from other birds. In captivity a magpie may be trained to imitate the human voice. These birds frequently associate with deer, moose, cattle and sheep, perching on their backs and picking off ticks and maggots. They can even use scent to find food--an unusual trait for birds, which generally have very little sense of smell.

Magpies are omnivorous, feeding on insects, rodents, eggs and bird young, reptiles, snakes, carrion, seeds, nuts, fruits and berries.
Magpies will also cache food when they find more than they can eat at one sitting. In this way they are able to take advantage of storing food away for times when it is more scarce.

Magpies are not swift fliers. They elude predators and danger by flitting in and out of trees or diving into heavy cover. Enemies of the magpie are hawks and large owls.

Usually seen in small flocks of 6-10 birds; larger flocks may form in winter, sometimes numbering over 700 birds. Black-billed Magpies are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds.

Magpies are protected as migratory non-game birds under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Under the Federal Codes of Regulation (CFR 50, 21.43) it is stated, however, that a Federal permit shall not be required to control . . . magpies, when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance. . . . Most state or local regulations are similar, but consult authorities before taking any magpies.

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