I’ve always loved everything that flies, and especially birds. We live near the forest and have several trees around our back yard. There are birds in our yard every day. We had a nest in a pine tree on our fence line with a family of European Magpies. We noticed there are about 6-10 magpies that hang around our home. I’d never seen a magpie growing up in the Midwest so I wanted to know more about them.
What is a European magpie?
European magpies are in the crow family. They are about 18 inches long with a tail that is more than 9 inches long. These are big birds! We have seen them chasing smaller birds away when we put seed and bread in the backyard for them to eat in the winter.
The European magpie head, neck and breast are glossy black but the belly and shoulders are pure white. This is a beautiful contrast and is very distinctive.
Magpies weigh 200 grams to 250 grams and live 8 to 15 years. They lay 5 to 8 eggs with a gestation period of 27 days. It can take up to 40 days to build a magpie nest. Birds use a lot of energy each day flying around, building nests and laying eggs.
What do European magpies eat?
They are omnivorous and eat what is available to them including fruits, nuts, grains and other vegetable substances. They prefer animal matter, mostly insects, but will eat road kill as well. They will land on large animals, like deer, and eat insects off of them. Magpies will raid the nests of other birds for the eggs and to kill the young birds to eat.
Their diet changes during the year as the available food supply changes with different seasons.
Are European magpies dangerous?
Magpies are territorial and stay in one place all year. They will defend their territory. It is rare for a magpie to attack a human. If they do attack, the biggest threat is to your eyes. They will typically fly close to your head and try to threaten you while making noises. I suspect this happens most of the time if you are approaching their nest. Just make sure you protect your eyes if you are ever attacked!
If a magpie pecks you, seek medical attention right away. Sporotrichosis is an infection caused by a fungus that humans can get after a peck from a bird.
Another danger is losing your shiny objects. Magpies love to collect shiny things so don’t leave your wedding ring unattended outside while you work in the yard. They are smart birds and will seize an opportunity to add to their collection.
How intelligent are European magpies?
Magpies are very intelligent. In 2008, German researchers proved that magpies possess the rare ability of self-recognition. Researchers put a colored mark on the bird they could only see with a mirror. When the bird scratched at the mark, it had to know it was looking at itself and not another bird. No birds were known to have this ability.
Magpies are smart and adapt quickly to changing environments and available food. They will hide food for later consumption. They will pretend to hide food in one place and actually hide it in another in an attempt to fool other magpies. Clever aren’t they? They even pose for paintings. Not really, but there are several well known painting about magpies.
Claude Monet painted a magpie in a famous painting
One of our favorite painters is Claude Monet. In 1869, he painted a very famous scene of a magpie perched on a gate in a snow covered landscape call “The Magpie.” This painting is in Paris at Musée d’Orsay:
We’ve enjoyed the family of European magpies in our yard. They walk and hop around and enjoy the food we put out for them. We see them all year round and like the fact they consider our neighborhood theirs as well. Our parrot enjoys seeing his fellow birds in the yard too I think, but he’s safely behind our kitchen window.