The Magpie a Magnificent Bird

European Magpie

THERE IS NO DENYING THE MAGPIE IS A HANDSOME BIRD.
THERE IS NO DENYING THE MAGPIE IS A HANDSOME BIRD. | Source

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

Game keepers in particular and people in general tend to show a dislike for this large corvine because of its natural tendency to eat the eggs of other much more favoured birds. Yet comprehensive studies have failed utterly to provide direct evidence to suggest the decline in the population of any other species has been unduly affected by the increase in the number of magpies. This handsome bird {for if it were a rare species it would surely be admired } has a characteristic chattering call. It is a familiar sound not only to country folk but the wider populace in general for the bird is now just as likely to be seen in an urban setting as a rural one.

It is immediately recognisable because of its prominent, apparent black and white plumage {pied} that makes up the second syllable of its common name. Incidentally the first syllable Mag derives from maggie and old English word meaning a chatter box. The bird is known as maggie in many country districts. The bird has a characteristic confident gait as it walks this handsome bird positively struts which is often accompanied by sideways hops and jumps.

The plumage consists of a white belly and wing panels which contrast greatly with the rest of its apparent black plumage. I say apparent for closer observation will reveal a variation of iridescent colouring. The head which has a flat crown with a purple sheen while the short rounded wings display a brilliant blue green iridescence. The tail is wedge shaped when in flight is relatively long and of a brilliant bronze green colouring banded with a purple near the tip. The chest is deep the body relatively stocky and short, while the long strong legs are of a dark colour.

A familiar member of the family

So why has the magpie become a regular and familiar member of the urban feathered fraternity?. It is thought that changes in farming practices, loss of habitat, changes in land use and persecution in the form of traps and the game keepers gun has made this wily Corvine take to the relative safety of villages and towns.

Town people observing this large bird eating the eggs and fledglings of their favourite songbirds such as the blue tit, black bird , song thrush and robin are quite naturally shocked, yet the magpie cause much less damage to the populations as a whole than the domestic cat, which accounts for many more losses. Squirrels, hedgehogs, rats, stoats, wood peckers and other Corvines such as the jay all eat the eggs or/and young of other species.

The ggs of the Robin above and the Blue tit below are often taken by Magpies

ROBIN
ROBIN | Source
BIRDS SUCH AS THE ROBIN ABOVE AND THE BLUE TIT BELOW ARE WARY OF THE MAGPIE AND REALISE THE THREAT THEY MAY BE TO THEIR OWN EGGS AND YOUNG
BIRDS SUCH AS THE ROBIN ABOVE AND THE BLUE TIT BELOW ARE WARY OF THE MAGPIE AND REALISE THE THREAT THEY MAY BE TO THEIR OWN EGGS AND YOUNG | Source

Magpie in a garden setting

The magpie in a garden setting may well be perceived as a bully intent on ravaging the nests of our much love songsters, this is a territorial characteristic. the magpie is an intelligent creature. I have witnessed with my own eyes a pair of magpies working a hedgerow in search of the nestsof other species which are occupied by eggs or fledglings. the female will perch high on the top most twigs of the hedgerow while its mate flushes out small inexperience fledglings not yet capable of flight. She then would fly down and take them at her leisure . It can be a disturbing sight it is true, yet other nests of the species will remain undetected and will be successful and enough young will survive to restore the balance of nature. This hunting of other bird species will often coincide with the magpie's own breeding season when they will have hungary mouths to feed from their demanding nestlings.

The increase in magpie numbers may well coincide with the decline in the number of game keepers employed since the second world war. Many were called into active service and have never been replaced. Magpies and song birds have co-existed for many thousands of years and other factors {hugely man made} need to be looked at to reveal why other species of birds are in decline.

Magpies are scavengers like many of their cousins such as the carrion crow and are often seen picking at the carcasses of road kills. {incidentally because of the increase in traffic and the speed they travel at in these modern times many more creatures are run over which make a good supply of food for birds such as the magpie especially in winter.} This again is not pleasant to observe but if it were not for scavengers like the magpie and others of its ilk the countryside would abound with dead animals.

Top. Blackbird below the Grey squirrel

THE NEST OF THE BLACK BIRD IS OFTEN VICTIM TO MAGPIES
THE NEST OF THE BLACK BIRD IS OFTEN VICTIM TO MAGPIES | Source
GREY SQUIRRELS ARE JUST AS LIKELY TO RAID THE NESTS OF SMALL BIRDS
GREY SQUIRRELS ARE JUST AS LIKELY TO RAID THE NESTS OF SMALL BIRDS | Source

Gregarious by nature

Magpies are gregarious birds by nature which is particularly evident in early spring when gatherings may be encountered. These social assemblies are a chance for single birds to find a partner. Observation of these gatherings will convey to the observer that the birds spend a lot of time preening themselves while at the same time displaying to other birds their fine colourful breeding plumage. Pairs are usually two years old before breeding commences.

Once a pair has bonded and chosen a nest site other magpies are driven away from the territory. Nest building is along affair which may last for up to two months. The nests are bulky structures comprising of twigs and sticks that are intricately, although loosely, woven together. these large structures are clearly visible at first, for they built when the trees are still lacking their foliage. When the leaves adorn the trees later in the season the nest becomes much more difficult to locate. These nests survive for many years defying winters cruel weather. However, most birds choose to construct a new nest each season. This gives the opportunity for other birds and small mammals to tenant the vacant nests during these hard times, for shelter and security.

Nest locations

TALL TRESS ARE USUALLY CHOSEN FOR THE NEST SITE HOWEVER THEY WILL USE COMPARITIVELY LOW SHRUBS WHERE TREES ARE NOT AVAILABLE {BELOW}
TALL TRESS ARE USUALLY CHOSEN FOR THE NEST SITE HOWEVER THEY WILL USE COMPARITIVELY LOW SHRUBS WHERE TREES ARE NOT AVAILABLE {BELOW} | Source
 MAGPIES NEST IN SHRUB
MAGPIES NEST IN SHRUB | Source

The bulky nest

The bulky nest is domed with twigs and comfortably lined with fine grasses. A tall tree is usually chosen but the birds will readily build in thorny shrubs such as hawthorn. egg laying usually occurs in late March or early April, but studies have shown that recently the birds are laying much earlier especially in the more southern counties of England. {is this due to the effects of global warming or the notorious false starts that spring often bestows on us?}

Only one clutch is laid unless circumstances render a second clutch is required. The eggs themselves have a greenish cast the light colour being speckled over with a brown colour. They are much smaller than one would expect of such a large bird being not much larger than the blackbirds egg. {34x24mm-3.2cm x 2.2cm} weighing about 9grams. However, they are relatively numerous 6-8 eggs are laid. Magpies themselves are not immune from predators and have to defend their nests from local marauding crows. When the first egg is laid incubation begins and lasts for around 3 weeks. This task is, in the main, carried out by the female. Hatching is staggered, and, if times are hard only the strongest, older chicks will survive.

The chicks are born naked, helpless and dependant on their parents a term for this is altricial from the Latin alticialis from altrix meaning to nurse from alere meaning to nourish. From hatching to leaving the nest takes around 26-31 days. Once the young birds become independent they are instanly recognisable they have the same apparent black and white plumage but lack the long tail, giving them a stumpy appearance. The tail lengthens as the birds mature.

The diet of these omnivorous birds includes vertebrates particuarly beetles,fruit seeds, carrion, scraps,small vertebrates, in fact if it is edible the birds will eat almost anything.


Magpie illustration

Familiar Wild Birds {1800's}
Familiar Wild Birds {1800's}

Magpie Trivia

Magpies are well known for stealing shiny objects, as are their cousins the Jackdaw.

When magpies were much less common this country rhyme was popular

One for sorrow-Two for joy

Three for a girl-Four for a boy

Five for silver-Six for gold

Seven for a secret never to be told.

There were many variations on rhymes that involved the sightings of magpies. Another variation is---

One for anger-Two for mirth

Three for a wedding-Four for a birth

Five for rich-Six for poor

Seven for a witch I can tell you no more.

Other variations stretched to the sighting of ten birds, with accompanying rhymes for each of their number.

Pica the Latin name alludes to the magpie but is also used for any pied bird. The Latin name was given to the bird in 1758

The longest living magpie on record died at the age of 21 years and 8 months.

the typical life span is 5 years.

Local names for the bird is meg, maggie, and chatterpie. They are also known as the black billed magpie.

The Gaelic word for magpie is Pioghad

The Spanish name for the magpie-Urraca

Irish name for the Magpie-Snag breac

The French name for the magpie-Pie bavarde.

Magpies near nest

MAGPIE NEAR NEST
MAGPIE NEAR NEST | Source

More by this Author


Comments 23 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

DDE,

Hello Devika thank you for visiting and for your usual kind comments. Best wishes to you.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

THE MAGPIE A MAGNIFICENT BIRD a beautiful bird and I have heard of it but didn't know this much about until I read this hub. A pleasant read for you.


Anna 4 years ago

Hi, thank you for the information about Magpies - nice and detailed - like the pics. I have lots of magpies in the garden - they always get to the food first - even before the squirrel! One of them dunks its bread into water to soften it first and hides nuts etc under shrubs for later. Clever!! Just love to watch them!


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi Trish_M your story is indeed sad. But nature has two sides to her character. Best wishes to you.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

This reminds me;

When we were kids, my brother saved a beautiful young magpie, whose mother had been killed. It became very tame and would sit on our shoulders and push shiny buttercups into our ears.

Sadly, it is difficult when a wild bird becomes tame and sees humans as its family, because the situation lures predators.

We were once amazed ~ and, at first, delighted ~ to see a beautiful fox in our garden. However, what we did not know was that it was following 'Maggie' ~ and it ambushed her in an outhouse, which she liked to explore.

Very sad.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Truckstop sally nice to meet you. Thank you for your visit. Best wishes to you.


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Thanks for the informative hub. I look forward to reading your other bird hubs.


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 5 years ago

thanks so much, still just re connecting, but hope to be writing again soon, thanks.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

AskAshlie3433, nice to meet you thank you for your kind and appreciated comments.


AskAshlie3433 profile image

AskAshlie3433 5 years ago from WEST VIRGINIA

What a beautiful bird. Thanks for sharing, great hub. Best wishes.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

darski will be over soon to check out your hub, best wishes.

Brenda, I am so glad to see you back here. May I express my condolences to you and your family over the loss of your dad, he sure seemed to be a popular man that is how you can tell a mans life has been well lived not by material things that so many strive for. Of course you have my permission I will consider it an honor to be associated with your work especially when it is so close to your heart. Best wishes to you and yours.


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 5 years ago

I have not been around on hubpages for a while. My poor dad lost his battle with life on the 7th January. My dad a keen bird lover had a bird table outside his window, which attracted beautiful birds. I am not usually supersticious but whenever a family member has been struggling for life, i have noticed one magpie hovering around, and even staring in the window...... Maybe because i watched too much of the programme Magpie, and sang the lines of the song too many times, i would pray for the magpies partner to arrive....... I have a poem which i wrote earlier this year when i knew my dad's health was failing. The magpie is featured in this piece of literature. Imagine my surprise when i looked up your recent work this morning to see the magpie featured. We had to wait til 24th of January for the funeral..... We had over 300 people at my dad's funeral. He spread his wings so wide, and on the tree outside his house, where my sister will be living, there were 6 magpies on the tree, they seem almost human...

p.s. the day my mum went in for surgery for liver cancer, she saw, and we saw a woodpecker in the garden, she went into hospital absolutely delighted about what she saw that morning. It did not move when we all stood watching it. Sadly she did not survive the operation. With your permission, I would love to add your pictures to the poem I have written for my dad. Your work is a comfort and a blessing for me, thanks so much love Brenda, and all my family. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 5 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

HI D.L.H. my dear friend maybe the bird that attacked us wasn't a Magpie, it happened to us all that summer in Denver colorado, so what kind of bird was doing that, just guess. They were so brave they would come right up to the top of your head and make us run into the house. That was when the nests were full and the were very high up. Strange, it could of been a smaller black bird? Love You back, darski check your my blueberry hub, you will love it.....


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

skylark35, nice to meet you. thank you for your visit and for taking the time to leave your comment. It is appreciated. Best wishes to you.


skylark35 profile image

skylark35 5 years ago

Love your photos and keep up the good work.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Becky Puetz, thank you so much for your visit glad to have been of help. The Magpie is a magnificent bird. Best wishes to you.


Becky Puetz profile image

Becky Puetz 5 years ago from Oklahoma

A wealth of information concerning the Magpie. I learned a great deal about this beautiful bird today. Awesome Hub, thanks.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi 2uesday, I think we all get a bit sentimental where song birds are concerned for they appeal to the human side of nature. Thank you for commenting on Magpies are magnificent birds, as always it is appreciated. Best wishes to you.

Darski I have never known a magpie to attack humans but they can be very aggressive when protecting their young. {as we all are} Thank you for your comments. Love and best wishes to you.

superwags, I forgot that other team is nicknamed the magpies. Thank you for commenting it is appreciated. Best wishes to you.


superwags profile image

superwags 5 years ago from UK

Die hard Sunderland fan here to disagree with you!

However I have noticed Pica pica becoming a more regular visitor to my garden over the past ten years or so. Apparently their numbers (and most corvids) are up, so you're in luck!


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 5 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Wonderful hub, I love the magpie, it is a beautiful bird that is for sure. This I rate up great job, one question do this birds attact humans when they have nests close by? I have a bird during spring and summer that attacts me when I go out in my yard? rate up, peace & love darski


2uesday profile image

2uesday 5 years ago from - on the web, I am 2uesday.

In the last five years the gardens around ours seem to have become a popular haunt of magpies and their calling to one another can often be heard. I have to admit that when we have small birds nesting in trees nearby and their young are at the fledgling stage I often feel compelled to open the window and clap my hands if I can see the magpies gathering. We once lost a whole family of baby birds in one day at the stage when they were attempting to learn to fly. I can see the magpie is a handsome bird but I am too sentimental about the little garden birds to appreciate it fully.

When I was a child someone told me that magpies are attracted to bright things and sometimes took shiny objects back to their nests, that may be a myth though.

Another interesting and well presented article to read, voted up and useful as I always learn something new when I read your HubPages.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

jandee thank you for being first to visit, always nice to see you here. Your comments are always appreciated. Best wishes to you.


jandee profile image

jandee 5 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

Thanks DAL,enjoyed reading this and nice picture of the squirrel,jandee

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