This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.
It’s a cool morning in the ranch country of the West. A Black-billed Magpie cuts a dash amidst the open habitat. Flying parallel to the road with deliberate wing beats, it flashes its black-and-white wings like a semaphore, its tail fluttering behind, the plumes longer than its body.
The March trees are still bare. The magpie's raspy call is bold as brass, like its nest: a rough, bulky sphere of sticks nearly three feet across, with entrance ports on the sides, sitting in plain view. Black-billed Magpies are omnivorous, like their close relations the jays and crows.
They'll even hitch a ride on a steer to pluck ticks from its hide. Which goes some way to explaining why magpies are such . . . survivors. The bison herds they once depended upon are greatly diminished. And they've a long history of run-ins with ranchers. Even so, they've persisted.
And when the morning light catches one, perching, just right, its wings and tail shimmer with iridescent blue and green.
To see video of a magpie singing up a storm, go to birdnote.com.
Bird sounds are provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, recorded by R.S. Little; mooing of cows by R.W. Simmers and B. Veprintsev. BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black