Black-Billed Magpie

Black-Billed Magpie

American magpie

Pica hudsonia
Population size
5.4 mln
Life Span
4-6 yrs
167-216 g
45-60 cm
175-210 mm

The Black-billed magpie is a medium-sized bird in the Corvidae family that inhabits the western half of North America. It is black and white, with black areas on the wings and tail showing iridescent hints of blue or blue-green. It is one of only four North American songbirds whose tail makes up half or more of the total body length.




















Not a migrant


starts with


Black And White Animals



Black-billed magpies occur from Colorado to southern coastal Alaska, to Central Oregon, to northern California, northern Nevada, northern Arizona, northern New Mexico, central Kansas, and Nebraska. In Canada, they are found in far Western Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Yukon. These birds do not migrate and prefer open habitats with clumps of trees. They can therefore be found in grasslands, shrublands, rocky areas, farmlands, and suburban and urban areas.

Black-Billed Magpie habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Black-billed magpies are social and live in family groups of 5-10 individuals. In winter they join other family groups and form communal roosts. Every evening they fly, often in groups and sometimes over long distances, to reach safe roosting sites such as dense trees or shrubs that impede predator movement, or, at higher latitudes, dense conifers that afford good wind protection. At the roosting site, they tend to occupy trees singly; they do not huddle. They sleep with the bill tucked under the wing and back feathers, adopting this position sooner on colder nights. During the night they may also regurgitate, in the form of pellets, the undigested parts of what they ate during the day. Such pellets can be found on the ground and then used to determine at least part of the birds' diet. Black-billed magpies typically forage on the ground, usually walking, sometimes hopping, and sometimes scratching with their feet to turn over ground litter. They communicate using a series of rough, scratchy calls and when threatened utters a shrill scream. They also have a call given in the vicinity of their dead, causing a gathering often referred to as a funeral.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Black-billed magpies are opportunistic omnivores. They eat many types of insects, carrion, seeds, rodents, berries, nuts, eggs, and also garbage and food from pets that are fed outside. Chicks are fed animal matter almost exclusively.

Mating Habits

late March-early July
16-21 days
3 months
6-13 eggs

Black-billed magpies are monogamous and form pairs that stay together year-round and often for life unless one dies. The breeding season is generally from late March to early July. Pairs nest individually, frequently toward the top of trees. Both the male and the female build their nest which is a loose but large accumulation of branches, twigs, mud, grass, rootlets, bark strips, vines, needles, and other materials, with branches and twigs constituting the base and framework. The nest cup is lined with fine rootlets, grass, and other soft material. Nests almost always include a hood or dome of loosely assembled twigs and branches, and usually have one or more side entrances. The female lays up to 13 eggs, but the usual clutch size is 6 or 7. The eggs are greenish-grey, marked with browns, and 33 mm (about 1.3 inches) long. Only the female incubates, for 16-21 days and the male feeds jer throughout incubation. Hatched young are altricial, brooded by the female but fed by both parents. They fly 3-4 weeks after hatching, feed with adults for about 2 months, and then fly off to join other juvenile magpies. Black-billed magpies breed for the first time at 1 or 2 years of age.


Population threats

There are no major threats to Black-billed magpies at present. However, a detriment to the overall Black-billed magpie population is toxic chemicals, particularly topical pesticides applied on the backs of livestock. For Black-billed magpies, who sometimes glean ticks off the backs of cattle, this proves a problem.

Population number

According to the All About Birds resource, the global breeding population of the Black-billed magpie is 5.4 million individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Black-billed magpies sometimes land on large mammals, such as moose or cattle, to pick at the ticks that often plague these animals. They also often follow large predators, such as wolves, to scavenge or steal from their kills.
  • Black-billed magpies build their nests over 40-50 days. They can repair old nests and use them, or they can build a new nest on top; older nests thus may reach 120 cm high by 100 cm wide (48 inches high by 40 inches wide).
  • Black-billed magpies are known to make food caches in the ground, in a scatter-hoarding fashion. To make a cache, the bird pushes or hammers its bill into the ground (or snow), forming a small hole into which it deposits the food items it was holding in a small pouch under its tongue. It may, however, then move the food to another location, particularly if other magpies are in the vicinity, watching. Cache robbing is fairly common so a magpie often makes several false caches before a real one. The final cache is covered with grass, leaves, or twigs. After this the bird cocks its head and stares at the cache, possibly to commit the site to memory. The magpie then relocates its caches by sight and also by smell; during cache robbing, the smell is probably the primary cue.


1. Black-Billed Magpie on Wikipedia -
2. Black-Billed Magpie on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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