MAGPIE (Pica pica)


This ubiquitous bird is familiar to all of us in the UK, be it through daily sightings or greeting them for luck. Magpies are, in fact, small sociable crows that can be heard chatting noisily in nearly every habitat around the UK. They are not a very popular bird in the UK due to their habit of eating songbird eggs and stealing our shiny trinkets which they use to decorate their nests. They feature widely in folklore due to their widespread populations and ‘one for sorrow, two for joy...’ is a rhyme many of us know well.

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Alert Status:

Green - 4% decrease ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 610,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to magpie song:


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

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Magpie diet

Magpies are omnivorous with their diet consisting of insects, fruits and nuts, carrion, songbird eggs, or anything they can scavenge.

Magpie breeding and nesting information

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.

Threats to magpies

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.

How you can help

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.  

Fascinating Fact

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.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Pica pica. Downloaded from Accessed 10/09/2023.

British Trust for Ornithology (2019) Magpie, BTO. Available at: (Accessed: 10 September 2023).  

British trust for ornithology (2023) Magpie | BTO - British trust for ornithology. Available at: (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

RSPB (2023) Magpie bird facts: Pica pica, The RSPB. Available at: (Accessed: 10/09/2023).  

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