6 Fascinating Facts About the Misunderstood Magpie

Editorís note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on August†20, 2014. Enjoy!

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 flashy†objects probably repel magpies. 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, placing†shiny materials in fields might deter magpies and keep†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, small rodents, grain and berries –†magpies have been known to steal other birds’ eggs, and†even young chicks.

In addition, magpies have†adapted rather well to suburban living, so they’ll†often eat leftover food scraps. But it’s better to provide them†with proper bird food to ensure they don’t eat anything 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, magpies†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

magpie

Photo Credit: NAPARAZZI/Flickr

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 all other controls in place, this could only mean that magpies had recognized themselves in the mirrors. And not just that, the birds†had differentiated between their normal physical state and their now-marked plumage.

You can watch a video of that experiment below:

For a really nerdy aside: Scientists believe that self-awareness in birds and certain mammals may be an example of convergent evolution, in which†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 from often appearing in large groups in the spring, looking stately and cawing at each other.

6. To the End of the Tail

A final†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 remains†up†for debate, but it may provide†magpies with†the ability to make swift turns while in the air. This would allow the birds†to evade larger predators and make up for†rather average flying abilities.

Photo Credit: Jean and Fred/Flickr

228 comments

hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN hEARFIELD5 days ago

tyfs

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Daniel N
Daniel N14 days ago

Thanks

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Jan K
Jan K26 days ago

Thank you

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Louise R
Past Member 1 months ago

tyfs

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Danuta W
Danuta W4 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W10 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Maureen G
Maureen G11 months ago

I live in Queensland Australia and I don't see anything adorable about magpies when we were not able to get out of our home without being viciously attacked by them during nesting season. They made my family's life a misery.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

thanks

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Linda D
Linda Dabout a year ago

Australian magpies are different to these ones. They can be very friendly if you talk to them while you feed them. They are great at catching the food I throw. I have a couple that visit all the time but more so when it is nesting season and they bring their fledglings to visit too. I adore them. I believe they do recognize different people too because the ones we have never swoop. They are known to swoop you and might even attack during nesting season if they feel threatened.

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Philippa P
Philippa Powersabout a year ago

I think magpies are fascinating.

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