Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Black-billed Magpie

The robust bird depicted in the photo at the top of this page is the Black-billed Magpie. This bird is a ubiquitous presence in Qingdao and much of Eastern China. Following is a description of this species' life and habits.

Field marks: Large (45-60cm.); iridescent, black and white, long tail.  Black portions of bird appear to be a green or blue in the right angle of light.
喜鹊 – xǐ-què – ‘magpie’

The Black-billed Magpie is one of the most familiar birds on the East Coast of China. It is widely known as the “lucky bird” by the Chinese and it is associated with good luck and fortune for those who encounter it.

In fact, this species, while extremely handsome, has a far less attractive disposition and reputation. It should be noted that all species of magpie belong to the family,  “corvidae.” This is the same family as the crow and the raven-two species better known for their association with bad luck and devilment. All members of the family corvidae including magpies, crows, ravens and jays, are extremely intelligent and are considered by many ornithologists as the most intelligent of birds. However, this family also has a reputation for savagery.

The Black-billed Magpie is an omnivore, it indeed consumes a large variety of foods. In addition to eating nuts, seeds and berries, it will take small rodents such as mice. The black-billed magpie, along with other members of its family, is known to predate on young chicks of other species. It will also attack and bully cats, dogs, and other birds that may venture too close. It is clearly not a lucky bird for those species upon which it preys and wreaks havoc.

This species is also found in the western part of North America. It can be found throughout much of western North America as well as  other locations in Asia. The species seems to be particularly successful on the east coast of China, especially around Qingdao, where it seems as common as people.

This species is non-migratory, unlike most other songbirds. It may wander in order to find new food sources, but it does not undertake large scale migrations in spring and fall.

The Black-billed Magpie frequents open country such as fields and pastures with scattered trees. Its love of this habitat makes it an ideal city dweller, where it can find parks and suburban sprawl. It is this adaptability that we can admire about this bird, and although this magpie may be a scourge to other birds it will not bother people beyond attempts to steal scraps of food from your garbage.

Like many non-migratory species, the Black-billed Magpie breeds early in spring. It builds a large, domed nest of loosely bound twigs and the female lays 6-10 eggs. Young magpies can fly after about one month after hatching and feed themselves in two months.

Black-billed Magpie(Photo by Brian Westland)

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