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Key Information

Scientific Name: Pica pica

Bird Family: Crows

UK Breeding Birds: 600,000 territories

UK Conservation Status: Green

The Eurasian magpie is a highly intelligent and distinctive bird native to the United Kingdom. With its striking black and white plumage, long tail, and reputation for being clever and resourceful, the magpie has long captured the imagination of both scientists and folklore enthusiasts.

What do magpies look like?

Magpies have a distinctive appearance with glossy black plumage on their heads, wings, and tails, contrasting sharply with their white belly, neck, and shoulders. They possess a long, graduated tail of about half their total length. Their bills are sharp and black, while their eyes are pale blue with a dark stripe through them. Adult magpies typically measure 44 to 46 cm in length, have a 52 to 62 cm wingspan, and weigh between 180 to 250 grams.

What do magpies eat?

Magpies are opportunistic feeders with a varied diet. They are omnivores, consuming various food items, including insects, fruits, seeds, and even scraps from human settlements. Magpies also prey on small mammals like mice, voles, and occasionally even young birds. They are skilled hunters and may catch these animals by stalking or ambushing them. Magpies have a unique behaviour of caching or hiding surplus food. They may bury or hide food items to consume later.

What to feed magpies

The following variety of bird food is excellent for feeding magpies and attracting them into gardens.

Do magpies mate for life?

Yes, magpies are known for forming long-term pair bonds, and in many cases, they exhibit monogamous behaviour, which means they stay with one partner until death. However, while magpies can form long-lasting partnerships, it's important to note that some individuals may choose new partners in subsequent breeding seasons, particularly if their previous mate is unavailable or if circumstances change.

Where do magpies nest?

Magpies are highly selective when it comes to choosing a nesting site. They typically opt for high, concealed locations in trees or shrubs, which provide good visibility and protection from predators.

How many eggs do magpies have?

The breeding season typically starts in March or April, with magpies laying clutches of 5-8 eggs. The incubation period lasts approximately three weeks, with the female and male taking turns to keep the eggs warm. This shared incubation duty helps ensure the safety of the nest and allows both parents to take short breaks for feeding.

When do magpies fledge?

After the eggs hatch, both parents are involved in caring for the nestlings. The fledglings stay in the nest for about a month before they are ready to leave. Once the young magpies leave the nest, they are still cared for by their parents for some time. The parents continue to provide food and teach important survival skills, such as foraging and avoiding predators.

What does it mean when you see a magpie?

The interpretation of seeing a magpie varies across different cultures and superstitions. One of the most well-known beliefs associated with magpies is the traditional rhyme:

"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."

This rhyme, often recited when people encounter magpies, is part of folklore and superstition in some regions. The number of magpies seen is believed to carry different omens or meanings:

One for Sorrow: Seeing a single magpie is traditionally considered a sign of sorrow or bad luck.

Two for Joy: Seeing two magpies is associated with joy and good luck.

Three for a Girl, Four for a Boy: Some variations of the rhyme specify that seeing three magpies signifies the birth of a girl, while four magpies indicate the birth of a boy.

Five for Silver, Six for Gold: This part of the rhyme is less commonly known and may not be recited as frequently. It suggests that seeing more magpies (five or six) is associated with wealth or financial fortune.

Seven for a Secret: The mention of seven magpies hints at the idea of a mysterious or hidden aspect.