Our Wild Neighbors

Black-billed Magpie

Pica hudsonia

An opportunist in cities in Central and Western Canada

Image of a Black-billed Magpie, mounted on a perch and seen from the side, leaning forward with its tail raised.

Description of the animal

  • Long-tailed, black-and-white bird.
  • Black head, breast, and back; white belly.
  • Iridescent blue-green layered tail and short rounded wings.
  • Primary feathers have white spots visible when wings are spread.
  • Very strong black bill, like other Corvids.

Habitat and needs

  • Some consider the Black-Billed Magpie to be a subspecies of the Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica). The two do resemble one another a great deal, but there are differences in behaviour, in particular the fact that the Black-Billed Magpie is less chatty than its relative!
  • Is omnivorous. The Black-Billed Magpie feeds on invertebrates, seeds, grains, acorns, carrion, small mammals, and tiny birds.
  • At times, steals the contents of other nests. Has kleptomaniac tendencies.
  • Also eats the ticks that bother large mammals like moose, bison, and white-tailed deer. Gathers food and stashes it for later.
  • Spends almost six weeks building a strong, elaborate nest. The nest is shaped like a dome and is about 75 centimetres high and 50 centimetres in diameter.
  • Broods only once a year.

Relationship

  • The Black-Billed Magpie was persecuted by farmers and hunters in the past. The disappearance of bison populations had a major impact on it because the ticks on this mammal were an important source of food. In recent decades, the evolution of landscapes with more open spaces has been a boon to Magpie populations. Cattle feedlots and landfill have provided the Magpie with new food sources.
  • The Magpie likes to be the centre of attention. This bold side of its personality attracts general disfavour: many find it noisy and cheeky.

Living with them

  • If the Magpie is competing with other desirable birds, the yard can be arranged to accommodate each species’ needs. By dispersing food sources and presenting them in different ways, you can ensure that every bird finds its preferred food.
  • The Black-Billed Magpie can become infected with the West Nile Virus. If a carcass is found, it should not be touched. Notify wildlife officers.

Participating cities where this animal has been seen