At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Crows, Magpies, Jays, Perching Birds
Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Tundra and Boreal Habitats, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flap/Glide, Undulating
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
17 1/2 -22" (44-56 cm). Unmistakable in most areas. Green and blue gloss on wings and long tail. Big white wing patches flash out in flight. In California, see Yellow-billed Magpie.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Blue, Green, White
Broad, Fingered, Rounded
Songs and Calls
A rapid, nasal mag? mag? mag? or yak yak yak.
Chatter, Chirp/Chip, Raucous, Scream
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.
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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.
Both parents bring food to nestlings. Young leave nest about 25-29 days after hatching. 1 brood per year.
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Black-billed Magpie. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Black-billed Magpie
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.