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6 Fascinating Facts About the Misunderstood Magpie

6 Fascinating Facts About the Misunderstood Magpie

Magpies are often maligned as pests, but they’re actually quite interesting birds that are usually overlooked for both their beauty and their intelligence. Here are six interesting facts about magpies.

1. Magpies Don’t Like Shiny Things — They’re Scared of Them

Magpies have a reputation as thieves out to steal your shiny jewelry or take ornaments from your garden, but new research shows that objects that are shiny probably repel magpies who don’t much like the look of them. The myth seems to have built up without much science to back it up, but the truth could actually be useful. Magpies are capable of wrecking crops by digging for grain, berries and other food, so along with other bird-scaring measures, the use of shiny materials in fields might help keep the magpies away and our crops safe from being upturned and trampled.

2. Magpies Will Eat Almost Anything, Including Bird Eggs and Chicks

While their natural diet is quite broad, including insects, mice and other small rodents, grain, berries and other fruit, magpies have been known to steal other birds’ eggs and even young chicks.

In addition, they’ve adapted rather well to suburban living and will often eat leftover scraps and other food bits put out for them, though for their health it’s probably better that you give them proper bird food so as to ensure they don’t eat anything that might be poisonous.

3. Magpies Are Closely Related to Crows, Jays and Ravens

Though they may look quite a bit different at first glance, magpies belong to the bird family corvidae, a group that includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws and jays, as well as lesser recognized members like treepies, choughs and nutcrackers. As such, they are among the most intelligent family of birds recognized by modern science. Which leads us to our next fact:

4. Magpies Recognize Themselves in Mirrors

European magpies have demonstrated the remarkable ability to recognize their own reflections in mirrors, something that was once thought to be a defining characteristic belonging only to humans. This might not sound that amazing, but out of countless species tested, only four ape species, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants have demonstrated this ability.

Scientists tested the magpies by placing a colored mark on their necks (which did not hurt or cause skin irritation). Then when placed in a cage with several mirrors, the birds were filmed scratching at  their necks after looking at their reflections. With everything else controlled for, this could only mean that magpies had recognized themselves in the mirrors, and not just that, but had differentiated between what was their normal physical state and their now marked plumage.

You can watch a video of that below:

For a really nerdy aside: scientists believe that self-awareness in birds and certain mammals may be an example of convergent evolution, which is where unrelated species evolve particular characteristics through different means. Another example of convergent evolution, and perhaps one of the best, is our very own set of camera eyes.

5. What is a Group of Magpies Called?

There are several names given to a group of magpies, but perhaps the most descriptive is “a parliament.” The birds have earned this title as a result of their often appearing in large groups in the Spring, looking stately and cawing at each other.

6. To The End of the Tail

Our last fascinating fact relates to one of the defining features of a magpie. While they share some similarities with their corvid family, the magpies possess an extremely long tail. In fact, a magpie’s tail is often roughly the same length as its entire body. Why magpies have such long tails is still debated but it may be that it gives the magpie, who isn’t a particularly strong, though still capable flier, the ability to make swift turns while in the air. This would allow the magpie to evade larger predator birds and make up for its rather average flying abilities.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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7:06AM PDT on Aug 26, 2014

Magpies live in our area. They are absolutely beautiful birds. I've seen them walking in our backyard and in flight.

We has sparrows with hatchlings living in a nest on the ground, that grew up to hop away, one after another, following their mother.

The magpies didn't eat the eggs, nor did they bother the hatchlings. While they may do this sometimes, it's not always and I believe they do it for survival.

I appreciate the beauty of magpies and feel privileged just to be able to watch them.

4:04AM PDT on Aug 26, 2014

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Thank you for sharing

4:02AM PDT on Aug 26, 2014

Thank you to all who love the animals and the planet, and who already signed the petition to protect horses from Pétropolis, if no, please help give an happy end to the sad story of those enslaved animals, and share these petitions :
Care 2
PeticaoPublica.com

And now you can help the sanctuary that is home to farm animals,
victims of exploitation, of abuse, and all kinds of cruelty.
Some comes from Pétropolis some from other places
around this city. Today there are 150 lucky animals, please give, for
keeping them and to rescue other ones.

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Thank you for sharing

10:31AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

My cats and I like to call them nagpies! They do love my grapes!

7:33AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

I adore 'Maggies' and am fortunate to live opposite a hug, hilly field with copses of trees ant the great regal oak, estimated to be over 500 yrs old, standing proudly alone in the middle. This beautiful tree has been the home to a number of pairs of magpies, and give me such delight and amusement all though the year. I've watched them protect their young from flocks of aggressive seagulls, and conversely being scared off by a single small rabbit. I also love the seagulls, owls, sparrow hawks and crows that, along with the ubiquitous starlings, sparrows, robins, and tits of all types that fly gracefully over 'my' fields. The arrival of the swallows in early summer fills me with joy and wonder, but it's the year long antics of the Maggies that are my passion. The fact that they also mate for life only makes me love them even more...after all, as a divorcee, they achieve something I sadly could not!!!

5:43AM PDT on Aug 23, 2014

I have been watching the Magpies every morning this summer when out for a walk. The reason I became so fascinated was because here in the borders, they tend to be persecuted by local farmers and shot. It is therefore a rarity to see them and this year I have witnessed them in numbers (and hope and pray that the farmers wont notice them). I have watched them hopping along roadsides picking up the squashed snails and newts left behind by traffic. I have also noticed that they spend much of their attention to voclised communication with other family members whilst appearing playful and very sociable. Magpies have always been a loveable bird as far as I am concerned and although they have a reputation for stealing eggs and chicks, research by the RSPB has evidence that the healthiest communities of birds exists where the Magpie is a part of that community and not excluded and exterminated. A healthy balance always includes the predators as well!! Obviously also included in this would be a lower population of humans.

12:57PM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

Birds are fascinating, thank you.

11:30AM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

I'm a big fan of the corvid family! Thanks for this information.

9:00AM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

Interesting article. Thanks.

8:12AM PDT on Aug 22, 2014

Ty

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