Black-billed magpies at Vaseux Lake Provincial Park, BC. From You Tube.
Range and Habitat
The black-billed magpie retreated from many parts of its former range in North America when the large herds of BISON disappeared. Bison carrion was an important food source and the live animals carry ticks, which magpies dined upon while sitting on their backs. This bird has since made a comeback through an increasingly close association with humans and their habitats. This permanent resident breeds from southern Yukon to western Manitoba, wandering farther east in winter. In recent decades, magpies have extended their range northward into the Northwest Territories.
Magpies possess relatively heavy bills and short, rounded wings with markings forming a conspicuous white patch when extended. Their long, graduated tails often make up over half their total length of some 50 cm. Magpies are black with iridescent metallic blue-green tones to their wings and tail, and contrasting white scapulars (feathers at the base of the wing) and underparts.
The black-billed magpie is an opportunistic and omnivorous feeder, whose diet consists mainly of ground-dwelling ARTHROPODS, seeds and carrion, which it obtains on the ground in open areas, rarely in trees. The bird has a symbiotic relationship with large ungulates (bison, elk, moose, cattle, etc) for it eats blood-sucking TICKS from the large animals. They occasionally prey on other birds and their nests, but this forms only a small proportion of the magpie's diet.
The large nests of magpies require about six weeks for construction, and are composed of a domed mass of sticks with one or more entrances leading to a cup of mud. Usually 4-9 greenish grey eggs blotched with brown are incubated by the female. Some mating pairs remain together for life.
Author JOCELYN HUDON and LORRAINE G. D'AGINCOURT
Links to Other Sites
All About Birds
Search this online bird identification guide for information on specific bird species found in North America. Click on the dynamic map of eBird sightings for a magnified view. From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US.