Photo: Neerav Bhatt/Flickr Creative Commons

Black-billed Magpie

Pica hudsonia

Black-billed Magpies add much to western landscapes, both with their flashy appearance and with their big bushel-basket nests in trees. In an earlier era, farmers and ranchers tried to exterminate this species, but to no avail, and it is common today in open country and even in towns in the mountain west.
Conservation status In early part of 20th century, many were killed as pests or poisoned by baits set out for predators. In spite of this, remains common and widespread.
Family Crows, Magpies, Jays
Habitat Rangeland, conifers, streamsides, forest edges, farms. Found in many kinds of semi-open country in the west. Avoids unbroken forest, and not found in treeless grasslands or extreme desert situations. Most common in streamside groves of trees in open terrain, farm country, and some suburban areas.
Black-billed Magpies add much to western landscapes, both with their flashy appearance and with their big bushel-basket nests in trees. In an earlier era, farmers and ranchers tried to exterminate this species, but to no avail, and it is common today in open country and even in towns in the mountain west.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult, carrying nest material
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by walking on ground; may use bill to flip over items in search of food. Sometimes steals food from other birds, and supposedly may follow predators at times to pick up scraps that they leave. May take ticks from the backs of elk and other animals.


Eggs

6-7, sometimes 5-9, rarely more. Greenish gray, heavily spotted with brown. Incubation is by female, 16-21 days, usually about 18. Male feeds female during egg-laying and incubation period. Young: Both parents bring food to nestlings. Young leave nest about 25-29 days after hatching. 1 brood per year.


Young

Both parents bring food to nestlings. Young leave nest about 25-29 days after hatching. 1 brood per year.

Diet

Omnivorous. Diet is quite varied, but feeds on insects more consistently than most members of the crow family; eats many grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, beetles, and others. Also eats carrion, rodents, eggs and young of other birds, sometimes small snakes. Vegetable matter such as berries, seeds, and nuts may be eaten more in winter.


Nesting

Often nests in small loose colonies. In courtship, males pursue females, often flashing their white wing patches. Nest site is among the branches of tree or large shrub (generally deciduous), 5-60' above the ground, usually 15-30' up. Nest is a huge structure, a big globular canopy of sticks about 3' in diameter, with entrance holes on either side. Inside the canopy is a cup-shaped nest with base of mud or manure and lining of weeds, rootlets, grass, and hair. Both sexes help build nest.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Mostly permanent resident. Some upslope movement in fall, and a few birds move southward or downslope in winter. Individuals rarely wander well to east of breeding range.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Mostly permanent resident. Some upslope movement in fall, and a few birds move southward or downslope in winter. Individuals rarely wander well to east of breeding range.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A rapid, nasal mag? mag? mag? or yak yak yak.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Crows, Magpies, Jays Perching Birds

Black-billed Magpie

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds