Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the black-billed magpie.
These large birds are so common in our area that it is easy to overlook their beauty. Iridescent blue-green colors in the wings and tail offset their striking black and white body colors. Short wings and a long, diamond-shaped tail are adaptations from a time when they lived in wooded environments, and which make these birds agile fliers.
Accounts of these magpies following Native American hunting parties to feed on entrails left in the field and of them stealing food from the kitchen during the Lewis and Clark expeditions speak of their long association with humans. Like other members of their corvid family, they are inquisitive, intelligent birds and great mimics. Try to feed a pet outdoors and before long a group of magpies will show up to snatch a morsel and take off.
Black-billed magpies have been observed pulling the tails of many species of wild and domestic animals. Is this a distraction method used for stealing food or done just for fun? They will eat insects, seeds, carrion, eggs and sometimes steal nestlings. They do provide a service when they hop up and clean the backs of large mammals of ticks.
Magpies walk with a swagger and combine short flights with hops as they move across the ground looking for food. When perched, they can keep up a chatter of squeaks, murmurs and other peculiar sounds. Young birds stay with their family group through the fall and winter.
Black-billed magpies are one of the birds that live here year-round and will be looking for anything they can find to eat in winter.
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