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
http://www.naturesongs.com/bbma1.wav) 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
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.
Take the Magpie Quiz!