A long-tailed corvid with striking black and white plumage, the Magpie is one of the world's most intelligent birds and the source of many superstitions.
Magpies are immediately recognisable as corvids. However, their long tails and pied plumage make them far more striking than any crow.
Magpies are dove-sized birds. They are essentially black and white, although their wing and tail feathers are beautifully iridescent. In the right light, these feathers reflect green and blue. Their large, diamond-shaped tails make up about half of their total length.
These unmistakable birds have black heads, backs, and chests. Their underparts are pure white, and they have large white patches above and below each wing. Males and females are difficult to distinguish, although females are slightly smaller.
Juvenile Magpies resemble adults but have shorter tails and duller plumage without the iridescent gloss.
Close up of a perched Magpie
Magpies have a total body length of 46 to 60 centimetres, almost half of which is made up by their long, diamond-shaped tails.
Magpies weigh 160 to 250 grams. Females are generally lighter than males.
Adult wingspans vary between 52 and 60 centimetres.
Magpies are one of the most easily recognisable bird species, by both their plumage and chattering call
Magpies are technically songbirds, although their calls are not exactly pleasing to the ear. Read on to learn more about Magpie vocalisations.
Magpies utter a grating, machine-gun-like ‘chack chack chack’ call. However, they have an impressive vocal range and can produce softer warbling calls and even mimicry.
Magpie alarm call
Simon Elliott, XC599983. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/599983.
Magpies are omnivorous, although live and dead animals are their most important food source. Keep reading to learn more about the Magpie’s varied diet.
Magpies are intelligent and opportunistic hunters and scavengers. They will eat various invertebrates and small animals, both dead and alive. Magpies almost always find their food on the ground, although they also raid nests and occasionally catch flying prey.
Magpies rely on the following food sources:
In times of plenty, Magpies exhibit a fascinating behaviour known as caching. They will bury excess food around their territory, so they have something to eat when pickings are slim.
Learn more in our comprehensive guide on what Magpies eat.
Baby Magpies eat insects and other soft foods like meat scraps. Both male and female Magpies feed their young, although males usually provide the most.
Young Magpie with a grasshopper in its beak
Magpies are an everyday sight for many people in the UK. You probably don’t need to travel far to spot these distinctive birds if they don’t occur near your home.
Magpies are habitat generalists, although they avoid treeless landscapes and dense forests. These birds are equally at home in gardens, parks, farmland, and urban areas.
Eurasian Magpies are widespread in the UK but absent from the high-lying areas of Scotland. These birds have an extensive global distribution that includes virtually all of Europe. They also extend through Asia to North Korea and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
Magpies walk or run along the ground when foraging for food. However, Magpies spend most of their time perched above the ground on buildings, walls, trees, and other structures where they are safe from terrestrial predators.
Close up of a Magpie in flight
Magpies’ feet have three toes pointing toward and one point pointing backwards, this gives them the ire uneven, jerky motion when walking.
Magpies are one of the UK’s most abundant bird species. These birds suffered serious declines in the late 19th century but have since recovered to a healthy and stable population. Their intelligence and adaptability allow them to thrive across a variety of altered modern landscapes.
You have a good chance of seeing Magpies near your home wherever you live in the United Kingdom. Listen out for their loud chattering call to locate these intelligent birds.
In flight, the magpie’s short, rounded wings show large white panels on ‘hand’. It has a fluttering flight when on straight course, with occasional sweeping glides. When on the ground, it makes strong bounds while the tail jerks up and down.
It carries a confident, almost arrogant air about it. At times the species gather in noisy flocks of 5-25 birds, known as magpie parliaments. In winter it may roost in even larger flocks that can contain over 300 birds.
Magpie coming in to land
Despite their often aggressive nature, Magpies are not immune to predation. Continue reading to learn more about their threats and conservation status.
Magpies have an average lifespan of three to five years, but the oldest specimens can live for over twenty-one years.
Magpies have fewer predators than most garden birds due to their large size and bold nature. However, domestic cats and foxes account for some, and birds of prey like Female Sparrowhawks and Tawny Owls are also known Magpie predators.
Magpies enjoy the protection of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.
There are an estimated 650,000 Magpies in the United Kingdom. They have a green conservation status and are classified globally as a ‘Least Concern’ species.
Magpies are common in gardens throughout the UK and Europe
Magpies may begin nest preparation in the dead of winter, although the first eggs are not laid until about April. Read on to learn more about their nesting habits.
Magpies build their nests in trees or thorny vegetation that offers protection from predators. Their large, dome-shaped nests may take several weeks to build, and each bird has its own role to play. Male Magpies collect the nesting material, while females are responsible for construction.
Read more in our complete guide about Magpie nesting.
Magpies usually lay five to seven eggs. The eggs are blueish or greenish and finely speckled, each measuring about 35 millimetres long and 24 millimetres wide.
Magpie pairs form a close bond and typically mate for life. Bonded pairs will remain together even during the non-breeding season when they may join larger flocks.
The nest and eggs of a Magpie
Magpies are not the most popular birds in the UK, partly because of their nest-raiding habits, and partly because of their cheeky attitude.
Magpies can be particularly aggressive toward each other at the start of the breeding season when they will call and perch in prominent positions to deter intruders. Although infrequent, territorial pairs will resort to physical violence if unwelcome Magpies don’t get the message.
Magpies are known to act aggressively toward other birds like Gulls and Sparrowhawks, and they will even harass other animals like squirrels at times. They can also dominate other birds at the bird table, especially if meaty foods are on offer.
Magpies sleep near their nest during the breeding season. In the winter, they often roost in large communal flocks. Flocks of up to 1700 individuals are known to roost together in eastern Europe.
Magpie harassing a Golden Eagle
You can see Magpies throughout the year in the United Kingdom, even on the coldest winter days. Continue reading to learn about their migratory habits.
Magpies do not migrate in the UK. These intelligent birds are generally sedentary, usually spending their lives within a radius of a few kilometers. They will travel longer distances to avoid extreme weather elsewhere in Europe and Asia but are not true migrants.
Magpies in the UK are year-round residents
According to the old Magpie nursery rhyme, a single Magpie is an omen of bad luck, while two of these striking birds will bring joy. Some superstitious individuals still resort to amusing antics like saluting the birds to prevent misfortune.
Magpies are highly-intelligent birds that generally regard humans as a potential threat. Evidence from a 2011 study suggests that Magpies can recognise individual human faces and will respond negatively towards people that have previously threatened their nests while ignoring other humans. They are one of just three known birds with this ability.
Many bird lovers malign the Magpie for its nest-raiding habits, but these birds are merely following their natural instincts and survival strategies. Evidence that Magpies reduce songbird numbers through predation is lacking, although they certainly can deter more welcome birds from visiting our gardens.
Magpies are shy and nervous birds. Wild individuals do not tame easily and will usually take off at the slightest hint of danger.
Eurasian Magpie, Common Magpie
46cm to 60cm
52cm to 60cm
160g to 250g
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