Black-billed magpie Black-billed magpie

The Black-billed magpie is a relatively large and common member of the corvid family (crows and jays), occupying most habitats from the central plains and Rockies and the entire Great Basin, to southern Alaska. The bird is found in all Wyoming counties and is particularly abundant in SW Wyoming.

Fun Critter Facts

Like most corvids, magpies have a somewhat rocky relationship with humans, often being accused of impacting game populations, livestock, crops, and domestic poultry.  People that feed their cats and dogs outside regularly encounter the magpie, as it is extremely fond of pet foods.  Native peoples had a varying relationship with magpies, ranging from dislike due to its meat stealing and raucous habits to reverence and respect.  The Blackfoot people were particularly fond of this species given its association with bison.  

Historically, Black-billed magpies relied heavily on wild bison and the carrion associated with the great herds.  They were particularly abundant near native villages that relied on bison as their main food source.  As bison herds were decimated in the 1870s and 1880s, magpies switched to domestic livestock to fulfill this role and have since adapted also to suburban areas and the vast food sources provided by man.

- Like all other corvids, Black-billed magpies feed on a wide variety of food stuffs, ranging from fruits and insects, to small mammals, eggs and nestlings, and carrion.  This ability to take advantage of a wide variety of foods is an adaptation that favors these species.  Magpies are regular visitors to bird feeders, and eat everything from seed mixes, sunflower seeds, and suet.  In today's world, it is somewhat amazing and mysterious to observe how fast magpies can locate the site of a game or livestock butchering operation.

- Black-billed magpies build large, domed and roofed nests within a variety of trees and structures.  There is generally multiple exits built into the nest.  These nests can be very common in cottonwood-willow riparian habitats in sagebrush dominated landscapes, and are generally made of large sticks with a finer lining. Other species may appropriate the nests following roof collapse, such as long-eared owls and Swainson's hawks.  Both adults construct these large nests, the male generally relegated to building the stick (outer) portion of the nest, while the female lines the interior with finer materials and mud.  One brood is raised annually and eggs/nestlings are quite variable (one to nine or more) based on food availability. Generally, two to four young make it to fledging, which happens in about four weeks.  Juveniles remain with their parents for the first couple of months and then join other youngsters in mixed flocks.

- Corvids have long been suspected of higher than average intelligence for avian species.  One of the odder behaviors documented for this species involves "funeral" behavior where a magpie mortality is visited by a number of others (sometimes in excess of 50).  The spectacle involves a period (10 or more minutes) of loud and clamorous calling, followed by silent dispersal of all members.

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