From a distance, magpies can look rather drab, with a simple black-and-white colour scheme. However, when seen close-up, a blue-green iridescent sheen can be seen on the feathers. They have a noticeably long tail which helps with their agile flight.
Average Length: 44 - 46 cm
Average Lifespan: 5 Years
Average Wingspan: 52 - 60 cm
Magpies are omnivorous with their diet consisting of insects, fruits and nuts, carrion, songbird eggs, or anything they can scavenge.
Magpies are seen nesting in a variety of habitats around the UK, including road verges where they take advantage of roadkill. During spring both adults make the nest with males collecting material and trinkets which they then work together to arrange. 5-6 eggs are laid in this nest and incubated by the female for 20 days while the male delivers food. The chicks then remain in the nest after hatching for 26-31 days before fledging. The length of the incubation and fledging period means that magpies usually only have one brood every year.
The UK has a very large population of magpies, and they face very few threats here in the UK. The populations are so large in some areas that they are still controlled. In the early 1900s, magpies were heavily controlled by gamekeepers, but the reduction in control since then has led to increases in the population. However, some think they have reached their carrying capacity, meaning the population cannot increase any further. Continuing dislike of these birds may drive population declines in the future with increased control, despite the minimal effect they have on songbird species.
Helping improve the public perception of these intelligent birds
Installing bird tables and large bird baths to help them feed and stay cool during the summer.
Magpies are represented widely in myth and legend from being in cahoots with the devil to providing good luck when greeted while outside of Europe it has a more positive image such as being a friend to Native American hunters.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Pica pica. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/eurasian-magpie-pica-pica. Accessed 10/09/2023.
British Trust for Ornithology (2019) Magpie, BTO. Available at: https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/gbw/gardens-wildlife/garden-birds/a-z-garden-birds/magpie (Accessed: 10 September 2023).
British trust for ornithology (2023) Magpie | BTO - British trust for ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/magpie (Accessed: 10 September 2023).
Prior, H., Schwarz, A., & Gü Ntü Rkü N, O. (2008). Mirror-Induced Behavior in the Magpie (Pica pica): Evidence of Self-Recognition. Plos Biology. 6(8): e202 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060202
RSPB (2023) Magpie bird facts: Pica pica, The RSPB. Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/magpie/ (Accessed: 10/09/2023).