The Magpie ( Pica pica )
Words and pictures by Peter Hanscomb
The Eurasian Magpie , more commonly known as just the Magpie ( Pica pica ) is a member of the crow family and undoubtedly one of the most intelligent and curious of all birds likely to visit our gardens. Magpies are deeply embedded in British folklore , derived as thieves of all things glitter and gold and famed in our superstitions , ” one for sorry , two for joy “
Another one of our garden visitor’s that’s very easy to recognise and a common sight in many British gardens the magpie has a wingspan of between 50-60cm , with a body length including tail 44-46cm and a body weight around 250g. It’s distinctive glossy black and white plumage is the same for both male and females . The young have the same markings and colours , the main difference being that the plumage is dull and lacks the glossy sheen. The adults complete a full moult , usually after breeding in early summer. Magpies are normally resident birds staying close to their nesting territories , with a range spreading all over mainland Europe and the British isles.
In the UK it’s estimated that there are 600,000 breeding pairs of magpies . They will normally mate for life and once established will occupy the same nesting territory for years. Mating takes place in early spring and prefer to nest in the tallest trees available. Eggs are laid in late April, usually five or six in number and are incubated for 20 days by the female only . The males role during this period is to provide the food. Once hatched the young are feed by both parents , their eyes open and feathers start to appear at around 10 days . the young fledge at around 30 days and the parents will continue to feed and protect the young for another few weeks. Survival rates for the young bird are low , studies have shown that around 20% of the fledglings will survive past the first year with a life expectancy of around 5 years.
The Magpie is classed as an omnivorous bird. It’s a jack of all trades when it comes to diet , sometimes a scavenger, predator of small birds and mammals it’s diet also consists of eggs , insects , grains and any bird feed left out in the garden. They are adapt easily and as such numbers are steady in the UK , and their status if listed as being of least concern by the ICUN.
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