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(Black-billed) Magpie

Both sexes: Black and white with long green-black tail.

From a distance the Magpie is a black and white crow with a long tail. The tail accounts for over half the total length of the bird and is an indication of the bird's status in its society.

The head, breast and back are black, the shoulders patches, belly and flanks are white. The black wings and tail, however, are a beautiful glossy, iridescent blue, green and purple. The bill and legs are black.

Juvenile Magpies have much shorter tails than their parents, the white of the plumage is dirtier, and the black is less glossy.


In the spring, large numbers of Magpies often gather to resolve territorial conflicts and social standing. These gatherings, called parliaments, probably gave rise to the many nursery rhymes and poems about Magpies, such as:

One for sorrow, two for mirth,
Three for a wedding, four for a birth,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret not to be told.
Eight for heaven, nine for hell,
And ten for the devil's own sel'.

Or more commonly:

One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl, four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold;
Seven for a secret, never to be told;
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss;
Ten for a bird that's best to miss.

Scientific Name Pica pica
Length 44-46 cm  (18")
Wing Span 52-60 cm  (20-24")
Weight 200-250 g  (7-9 oz)
Breeding Pairs 590000
Present All Year
Status Green

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


Magpies are very vocal birds, but the harsh repeated chattering "chacker chacker" call of the Magpie is unmistakable.


© Jean Roché,


They have quite a varied diet in their original rural habitat - insects, rodents, carrion, eggs and nestlings, grain, berries and fruit.

This variety carries over into the suburban garden where they will also eat allsorts of kitchen scraps and bird foods. 


Both birds build the large nest, which can take several weeks to complete, from small branches and twigs, and line it with mud and vegetation. The nest is usually in a large tree (but sometimes in pylons) and domed to prevent predation by other crows, but some birds do not bother.


The hen lays and incubates eggs that are smooth, glossy and pale blue with olive-brown or grey spots. The eggs are about 35 mm by 24 mm. During the breeding season, the hen can often be identified by having bent or damaged tail feathers.

Both parents feed the young after they have hatched.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
early April 1 5-8 21-23 22-28


Magpies are sedentary birds, rarely moving far from their birth place.


Magpies are persecuted by gamekeepers but to a much lesser extent than before the last century. The population increased during the last century, especially as the birds adapted to modern living and moved into urban and suburban areas, and had stabilised by the 1980s.