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.

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.


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.


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


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.


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

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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

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Songs and Calls

A rapid, nasal mag? mag? mag? or yak yak yak.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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