Saturday, 2 February 2013

Black Billed Magpie

order : Passeriformes      Genus & Species : Corvidae     Family : Pica pica

Widely reviled as a killer — although it takes far fewer birds than hawks — and feared by others as unlucky, the clever and resourceful magpie still holds a fascination for us. The magpie’s short wings and long, fanning tail are adaptations to a habitat very different to the one it has colonized in recent years. They found across central Asia, into northeastern Asia; also along the west coast of North America, from Alaska to California, into the Midwest. 

Habitat : Once a bird of light woodland and field edges, the magpie avoids both dense woodlands and wholly treeless areas. Urban parks and gardens, with trees, shrubs and open patches of grass, are ideal habitats for the magpie, which has been swift to exploit these new opportunities. Its bold, inquisitive nature and ability to take advantage of a wide range of foods have enabled it to thrive in the suburbs, despite its widespread unpopularity. 
Food & Feeding : The magpie is notorious as a raider of other birds’ nests and can occasionally be seen taking juveniles or even the adults of small species from the air. It is known to track down nest sites by watching target birds, such as the thrush. But this potentially rich food source is available only part of the year, and makes up less than 1% of the magpie’s diet. For most of the year, the magpie eats invertebrates, which it uncovers by scratching among leaf litter or in loose soil. It also regularly feeds on seeds, fruits and carrion. As this clever and resourceful species has made its way into the suburban landscape, it has learned to find many new sources of food, from overturned refuse bins to doorstep milk bottles. 
Behavior : Although usually seen singly or in pairs, the magpie has a complex set of social relationships. A pair occupies a territory during the breeding season, which it defends from other pairs. If the territory is particularly rich, the pair remains all year ’round, but otherwise joins temporary winter flocks that roost communally during the coldest months.Young males without a mate may form flocks at any time of the year. In early spring, the magpie may exhibit a form of communal behavior that has puzzled ornithologists for years. Flocks of up to 200 birds gather and, amid much excited chattering, make extravagant displays of flying skills, preening and posturing to one another. This behavior has been described as the “magpie parliament” or “crow marriage” and was thought to be an arena in which individuals chose mates. But studies have shown that many birds attending are already paired. Another theory is that the event is part of a process that establishes a hierarchy among the local population. This hierarchy may decide which pairs get the best territories. 
Breeding : Mating pairs of magpies form when roosting flocks gather during winter. Pairs generally remain together for life. Establishing a territory early in the spring, each pair builds a nest before mid-April — the peak laying period. The magpie’s nest is a large, untidy, robust structure often built high up in a tree.Thorn trees are the preferred site since they offer some defense from predators, but, failing this, the magpie often incorporates thorny branches into a protective domed roof. Inside the nest, a basin of hardened mud lined with feathers, grass or other soft material holds the eggs. 

Skull : The brain-case is relatively large for a bird, suggesting a high level of intelligence.A large, strong, general-purpose bill enables the magpie to eat a range of foods. 
Plumage : The black-and-white plumage pattern is eye-catching out in the open but effectively breaks up the bird’s outline among bare branches. Like other members of its family, the magpie’s black feathers are lustrous and glimmer with a blue, purple or green sheen. 
Feet : Like its cousin the crow, the magpie grips its food in its foot when eating. Its strong legs enable it to make hops of more than 20". 
Tail : Although not a strong flier, the magpie is remarkably agile in the air thanks to its long, diamond-shaped tail, which acts as a rudder. Like the short wings, the tail is an adaptation to flying in a wooded habitat full of obstacles and tight spaces. The length of the tail may also dictate social rank. 

Weight : 6.5–9.5 oz. 
Length : 16-18.5"
Wingspan : 21-24"
Breeding Season : March 

The magpie’s name comes from the name Maggie, a traditional nickname for a chattering woman, and “pied,” referring to the bold plumage pattern.

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