Black-billed magpie, Pica hudsonia (P. pica: LC)


Range - Distribution and Habitat of the Black Billed Magpie:

The Black-billed magpie is a member of the crow family that is native here in Canada and can be found year round in the southern portions of the Yukon Territory, most of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as the south western corner of Manitoba.  

Here it inhabits those lands that are made up predominantly of grasses, grass-like plants, forbs, or shrubs that would make it suitable for grazing or browsing on. It also needs woodlands to be adjacent to the grasslands and likes to be close to water.

The forested areas are required as a place of refuge from predation and to build its nests in as their nests are relatively large and unwieldy. The grasslands, meadows, and even agricultural fields provide a platform from which they can forage for food.

The Black-billed magpie may be found at elevations up to 9,843 feet (3,000 meters) and are considered to be a non-migratory bird but it should be noted that some movements to different elevations following the breeding season and during the winter do occur and will travel distances of several hundred kilometres at these times. 

Description of Black Billed Magpie

Black Billed Magpie

Black-Billed Magpie
Black Billed Magpie on Seedskadee NWR, CC BY 2.0,

The only notable difference between male and female Black-billed magpies is the fact that females are about 10% smaller than males in size. Colouring of this bird consists of mainly a black bill, head, body, tail and legs. It also sports a large white patch on its belly and white on both the upper and lower portions of its wings. Those portions of its tail and wings may exhibit an amber, blue or green iridescent shimmer depending on how the light hits it.

It is a medium size bird with a long tail that takes up half of its overall length and it will range in size from 17.7 to 23.6 inches (45 to 60 cm) long, Its wingspan is about 22 to 24 inches (56 to 61 cm) across and it has a body mass of 5.1 to 7.4 oz. (145 to 210 g).

Wild male Black-billed magpies have a lifespan of about 3.5 years while females only live an average of 2 years. Because it is possible for this bird to exist to 15 years of age, these low averages indicate that young birds of the species have very high mortality rates.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of the Black Billed Magpie:

The Black-billed magpies is like other members of the crow family in that it is an opportunistic omnivore. They primarily forage for food on the ground eating fruit, grain, insects, insect larva, snakes, mice, and moles. But some of their foraging does occurs in trees and shrubs where they will consume the eggs and hatchlings of songbirds as they find them. Additionally carrion (roadkill) and human garbage are also targeted.

For the agricultural community it does have the benefit of controlling insect pests like grasshoppers, cutworms, and wireworms.

Breeding and Reproduction of the Black Billed Magpie:

This bird is considered to be monogamous because a pair will stay together during the breeding season that depending upon its local will be from late March to early June. The Black billed Magpie may also maintain this bond through out their lives.

The mating period begins with a courtship display where the male flashes his wings and fans out his tail for the potential mate. From the time that the female becomes fertile till the pair incubates their eggs the female will exhibit loud calls and the male will respond to these calls by feeding her. You will also find that the male is quite vigilant in guarding his mate from other males that may be attracted by the female’s loud calls.

It takes the pair 40 to 50 days to construct a domed nest that is often located towards the top of a deciduous or evergreen tree. They may continue to use the nest in successive years and even if they don’t use the same nest they will probably nest in the same area. The nest consists of large accumulations of branches, twigs, mud, grass, rootlets, bark strips, vines, needles, and other materials, with branches and twigs constituting the base and framework. The nest will have a 23.6 to 27.24 inch (60 to 120 cm.) dome that is built by the male. While he is doing this the female in constructing the bowl of egg cup that is basically a mud cup that is lined with hair, fine roots, grasses, bark strips, and feathers to make it soft.

Defence of the structure and only the nest tree is maintained primarily by the female prior to and during the egg laying process. However, during the incubation period it is the role of the male to defend the nest as well as foraging for and feeding the female.

Only one brood of chicks are raised unless the first brood is lost early in the mating season and it is at this time that the pair may attempt to raise a second brood. However, it should be noted that should either of the sexes die during the raising of the brood. The brood will not survive.

The female will lay a clutch of greenish-gray eggs that have brown markings on them. The sub-elliptical to oval shaped eggs will be about 1.3 x 0.9 ins. (3.3 x 2.3 cm.) in size and will number from 5 to 9 eggs but the average number is 6.

Only the female incubates the eggs and it takes about 25 days for the first egg to hatch. Then the hatching progresses at a rate of about one chick per day as the eggs do not hatch all at the same time. Newborn chicks come into this world altricial in that they have no feathers and their eyes are closed.

Chicks develop quickly, they will open their eyes at about day 7 and at about 24 to 30 days (average is 27.5 days) they will have developed wing feathers large enough for flight. Both of their parents will continue to feed them in or near the nest for their first 3 to 4 weeks but by the time they are 6 to 8 weeks old they will begin to fend for themselves and will be fully independent at about 70 days.

Female’s of the species reach sexual maturity at the age of 1 but males don’t reach sexually maturity until they are 2 years or age.

Status of Black Billed Magpie:

The Black Billed Magpie Cormorant is listed as a bird of Least Concern by BirdLife International. 2017. Pica hudsonia. (amended version published in 2016) and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T103727176A111465610.

Although it is a species of Least Concern it is protected un the US Migratory Bird Act but here in Canada it has no special status.

Justification for this listing comes from the facts that it has a very large range and its population seems to be stable.

Birds of prey like the Great Horned Owl. Northern Harrier. Red-Tailed Hawk. and Swainson’s Hawk are most likely to prey on young fledging magpies. While birds like the American Crow and the Common Raven are along with land based predators like weasels, mink, domestic cats, raccoons, coyotes, and red squirrels target the Black Billed Magpies eggs and juveniles while they are still in the nest.

It is believed that the Black-billed magpie roosts in dense thickets and coniferous trees in order to protect itself from predation by great horned owls and that the large dome above this magpie’s nest may also provide some protection from great horned owls and common ravens.

American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos LC

The American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is a large passerine bird species of the family Corvidae. It is a common bird found throughout much of North America. American crows are the new world counterpart to the carrion crow and the hooded crow. Although the American crow and the hooded crow are very similar in size, structure and behavior, their calls are different. The American crow nevertheless occupies the same role the hooded crow does in Eurasia. [2]

American Crow

American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos

The range of the American crow now extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in Canada, on the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, south through the United States, and into northern Mexico. The increase in trees throughout the Great Plains during the past century due to fire suppression and tree planting facilitated range expansions of the American crow as well as range expansions of many other species of birds. Virtually all types of country from wilderness, farmland, parks, open woodland to towns and major cities are inhabited; it is absent only from Pacific temperate rain forests and tundra habitat where it is replaced by the raven. This crow is a permanent resident in most of the USA, but most Canadian birds migrate some distances southward in winter. Outside of the nesting season these birds often gather in large (thousands or even millions) communal roosts at night. [2]

From beak to tail, an American crows measures 40–50 cm (16–20 in), almost half of which is tail. Mass varies from about 300 to 600 g (10 to 20 oz). Males tend to be larger than females. The most usual call is CaaW!-CaaW!-CaaW!. [2]

The American crow is all black, with iridescent feathers. It looks much like other all-black corvids. They can be distinguished from the common raven (C. corax) because American crows are smaller and from the fish crow (C. ossifragus) because American crows do not hunch and fluff their throat feathers when they call. [2]

American crows are common, widespread, and susceptible to the West Nile virus, making them useful as a bioindicator to track the virus's spread. Direct transmission of the virus from American crows to humans is unheard of and unlikely. [2]

The American crow is a distinctive bird with iridescent black feathers all over. Its legs, feet and bill are also black. They measure 40–53 cm (16–21 in) in length, of which the tail makes up about 40%. The wing chord is 24.5 to 33 cm (9.6 to 13.0 in), with the wingspan ranging from 85 to 100 cm (33 to 39 in). The bill length can be from 3 to 5.5 cm (1.2 to 2.2 in), varying strongly according to location. The tarsus is 5.5 to 6.5 cm (2.2 to 2.6 in) and the tail is 13.5 to 19 cm (5.3 to 7.5 in). The body mass can vary from 316 to 620 g (11.1 to 21.9 oz). Males tend to be larger than females. [2]

The most usual call is a loud, short, and rapid caaw-caaw-caaw. Usually, the birds thrust their heads up and down as they utter this call. American crows can also produce a wide variety of sounds and sometimes mimic noises made by other animals, including other birds. [2]

Visual differentiation from the fish crow (C. ossifragus) is extremely difficult and often inaccurate. Nonetheless, differences apart from size do exist. Fish crows tend to have more slender bills and feet. There may also be a small sharp hook at the end of the upper bill. Fish crows also appear as if they have shorter legs when walking. More dramatically, when calling, fish crows tend to hunch and fluff their throat feathers. [2]

If seen flying at a distance from where size estimates are unreliable, the distinctly larger common ravens (C. corax) can be distinguished by their almostl ozenge-shaped tail and their larger-looking heads. They also fluff their throat feathers when calling like fish crows, only more so.[2]

The American crow is omnivorous. It will feed on invertebrates of all types, carrion, scraps of human food, seeds, eggs and nestlings, stranded fish on the shore and various grains. American crows are active hunters and will prey on mice, frogs, and other small animals. In winter and autumn, the diet of American crows is more dependent on nuts and acorns. Occasionally, they will visit bird feeders. The American crow is one of only a few species of bird that has been observed modifying and using tools to obtain food. [2]

Like most crows, they will scavenge at landfills, scattering garbage in the process. Where available, corn, wheat and other crops are a favorite food. These habits have historically caused the American crow to be considered a nuisance. However, it is suspected that the harm to crops is offset by the service the American crow provides by eating insect pests.[2]

American crows are socially monogamous cooperative breeding birds. Mated pairs form large families of up to 15 individuals from several breeding seasons that remain together for many years. Offspring from a previous nesting season will usually remain with the family to assist in rearing new nestlings. American crows do not reach breeding age for at least two years. Most do not leave the nest to breed for four to five years. [2]

The nesting season starts early, with some birds incubating eggs by early April. American crows build bulky stick nests, nearly always in trees but sometimes also in large bushes and, very rarely, on the ground. They will nest in a wide variety of trees, including large conifers, although oaks are most often used. Three to six eggs are laid and incubated for 18 days. The young are usually fledged by about 36 days after hatching. Predation primarily occurs at the nest site and eggs and nestlings are frequently eaten by snakes, raccoons, ravens and domestic cats. Adults are less frequently predated but face potential attack from great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons and eagles. They may be attacked by predators such as coyotes or bobcats at carrion when incautious although this is even rarer. [2]

The average life span of the American crow in the wild is 7–8 years. Captive birds are known to have lived up to 30 years. [2]


Northwestern crow, Corvus caurinus LC

The northwestern crow (Corvus caurinus) is an all-black passerine bird of the crow genus native to the northwest of North America. It is very similar to the more western forms of the widespread American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), but it averages slightly smaller (33–41 cm in length) with proportionately smaller feet and a slightly more slender bill. This taxon is reliably identified by range only. [3]

Northwestern Crow

Northwestern crow, Corvus caurinus

This species' plumage is virtually identical to that of the American crow. Individuals may be distinguished by in-hand criteria such as smaller wing chord and tail length, shorter tarsus, and smaller bill. Identification percentages increase when sex of animal is known. Like the American crow, the sexes look the same. Older birds in breeding condition may be reliably sexed by in-hand criteria such as cloacal protuberance (male) or by brood patch (female). Younger birds may not attain breeding condition as they assist at the nest. [3]

This species occurs in coastal regions and offshore islands of southern Alaska, south through British Columbia to Washington state. Beaches and shorelines are the principal forage areas. It can often be seen in and around urban areas. [3]

Very similar to that of the fish crow; the northwestern crow eats stranded fish, shellfish, crabs and mussels, and also searches through refuse containers for suitable food items. It has been seen to fly into the air with mussels and drop them onto hard surfaces to break them open. It also regularly eats insects, other invertebrates, and various fruits (especially berries). It raids other birds' nests to eat eggs and hatchlings. [3]

This bird is generally solitary, but sometimes builds its nest in association with a few other individuals in small, loose colonies in trees or sometimes large bushes. Very rarely, it will nest on cliffs in a recess or even on the ground in a remote area if overhung by a rock for shelter. It is a typical crow nest with 4-5 eggs usually laid. [3]


Common raven, Corvus corax LC

The common raven (Corvus corax), also known as the northern raven, is a large all-black passerine bird. Found across the Northern Hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed of all corvids. There are at least eight subspecies with little variation in appearance, although recent research has demonstrated significant genetic differences among populations from various regions. It is one of the two largest corvids, alongside the thick-billed raven, and is possibly the heaviest passerine bird; at maturity, the common raven averages 63 centimetres (25 inches) in length and 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) in mass. Common ravens can live up to 21 years in the wild, a lifespan exceeded among passerines by only a few Australasian species such as the satin bowerbird and probably the lyrebirds. Young birds may travel in flocks but later mate for life, with each mated pair defending a territory. [4]


Common raven, Corvus corax

Common ravens have coexisted with humans for thousands of years and in some areas have been so numerous that people have regarded them as pests. Part of their success as a species is due to their omnivorous diet; they are extremely versatile and opportunistic in finding sources of nutrition, feeding on carrion, insects, cereal grains, berries, fruit, small animals, and food waste. [4]

Some notable feats of problem-solving provide evidence that the common raven is unusually intelligent. Over the centuries, it has been the subject of mythology, folklore, art, and literature. In many cultures, including the indigenous cultures of Scandinavia, ancient Ireland and Wales, Bhutan, the northwest coast of North America, and Siberia and northeast Asia, the common raven has been revered as a spiritual figure or god. [4]

A mature common raven ranges between 54 and 67 cm (21" and 26") long, with a wingspan of 115 to 130 cm (45-51").[ Recorded weights range from 0.69 to 2 kg (1.5 to 4.4 lb), thus making the common raven one of the heaviest passerines. Birds from colder regions such as the Himalayas and Greenland are generally larger with slightly larger bills, while those from warmer regions are smaller with proportionally smaller bills. Representative of the size variation in the species, ravens from California weighed an average of 784 g (1.728 lb), those from Alaska weighed an average of 1,135 g (2.502 lb) and those from Nova Scotia weighed an average of 1,230 g (2.71 lb). The bill is large and slightly curved, with a culmen length of 5.7 to 8.5 cm (2.2 to 3.3 in), easily one of the largest bills amongst passerines (perhaps only the thick-billed raven has a noticeably larger bill). It has a longish, strongly graduated tail, at 20 to 26.3 cm (7.9 to 10.4 in), and mostly black iridescent plumage, and a dark brown iris. The throat feathers are elongated and pointed and the bases of the neck feathers are pale brownish-grey. The legs and feet are good-sized, with atarsus length of 6 to 7.2 cm (2.4 to 2.8 in). Juvenile plumage is similar but duller with a blue-grey iris. [4]

Apart from its greater size, the common raven differs from its cousins, the crows, by having a larger and heavier black beak, shaggy feathers around the throat and above the beak, and a wedge-shaped tail. Flying ravens are distinguished from crows by their tail shape, larger wing area, and more stable soaring style, which generally involves less wing flapping. Despite their bulk, ravens are easily as agile in flight as their smaller cousins. In flight the feathers produce a creaking sound that has been likened to the rustle of silk. The voice of ravens is also quite distinct, its usual call being a deep croak of a much more sonorous quality than a crow's call. In North America, the Chihuahuan raven (C. cryptoleucus) is fairly similar to the relatively small common ravens of the American southwest and is best distinguished by the still relatively smaller size of its bill, beard and body and relatively longer tail. All-black carrion crow (C. corone) in Europe may suggest a raven due to their largish bill but are still distinctly smaller and have the wing and tail shapes typical of crows. [4]

White ravens are occasionally found in the wild. Birds in British Columbia lack the pink eyes of an albino, and are instead leucistic, a condition where an animal lacks any of several different types of pigment, not simply melanin. [4]

Common ravens have a wide range of vocalizations which are of interest to ornithologists. Gwinner carried out important studies in the early 1960s, recording and photographing his findings in great detail. Fifteen to 30 categories of vocalization have been recorded for this species, most of which are used for social interaction. Calls recorded include alarm calls, chase calls, and flight calls. The species has a distinctive, deep, resonant prruk-prruk-prruk call, which to experienced listeners is unlike that of any other corvid. Its very wide and complex vocabulary includes a high, knocking toc-toc-toc, a dry, grating kraa, a low guttural rattle and some calls of an almost musical nature. [4]

Like other corvids, ravens can mimic sounds from their environment, including human speech. Non-vocal sounds produced by the common raven include wing whistles and bill snapping. Clapping or clicking has been observed more often in females than in males. If a member of a pair is lost, its mate reproduces the calls of its lost partner to encourage its return. [4]

Common ravens can thrive in varied climates; indeed this species has the largest range of any member of the genus, and one of the largest of any passerine. They range throughout the Holarctic from Arctic and temperate habitats in North America and Eurasia to the deserts of North Africa, and to islands in the Pacific Ocean. In the British Isles, they are more common in Scotland, Wales, northern England and the west of Ireland. In Tibet, they have been recorded at altitudes up to 5,000 m (16,400 ft), and as high as 6,350 m (20,600 ft) on Mount Everest. The population sometimes known as the Punjab raven—described as Corvus corax laurencei (also spelt lawrencii or laurencii) by Allan Octavian Hume but more often considered synonymous with subcorax—is restricted to the Sindh district of Pakistan and adjoining regions of northwestern India. Except in Arctic habitats, they are generally resident within their range for the whole year. Young birds may disperse locally. [4]

Most common ravens prefer wooded areas with large expanses of open land nearby, or coastal regions for their nesting sites and feeding grounds. In some areas of dense human population, such as California in the United States, they take advantage of a plentiful food supply and have seen a surge in their numbers.  On coasts, individuals of this species are often evenly distributed and prefer to build their nest sites along sea cliffs. Common ravens are often located in coastal regions because these areas provide easy access to water and a variety of food sources. Also, coastal regions have stable weather patterns without extreme cold or hot temperatures. [4]

In general, common ravens live in a wide array of environments but prefer heavily contoured landscapes. When the environment changes in vast degrees, these birds will respond with a stress response. The hormone known as corticosterone is activated by the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. Corticosterone is activated when the bird is exposed to stress, such as migrating great distances. [4]

Common ravens are omnivorous and highly opportunistic: their diet may vary widely with location, season and serendipity. For example, those foraging on tundra on the Arctic North Slope of Alaska obtained about half their energy needs from predation, mainly of microtine rodents, and half by scavenging, mainly of caribou and ptarmigan carcasses. [4]

In some places they are mainly scavengers, feeding on carrion as well as the associated maggots and carrion beetles. With large-bodied carrion, which they are not equipped to tear through as well as birds such as hook-billed vultures, they must wait for the prey to be torn open by another predator or flayed by other means. Plant food includes cereal grains, berries and fruit. They prey on small invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and birds. Ravens may also consume the undigested portions of animal feces, and human food waste. They store surplus food items, especially those containing fat, and will learn to hide such food out of the sight of other common ravens. Ravens also raid the food caches of other species, such as the Arctic fox. They sometimes associate with another canine, the grey wolf, as a kleptoparasite, following to scavenge wolf-kills in winter. Ravens are regular predators at bird nests, brazenly picking off eggs, nestlings and sometimes adult birds when they spot an opportunity. They are considered perhaps the primary natural threat to the nesting success of the critically endangered California condor, since they readily take condor eggs and are very common in the areas where the species is being re-introduced.

Common ravens nesting near sources of human garbage included a higher percentage of food waste in their diet, birds nesting near roads consumed more road-killed vertebrates, and those nesting far from these sources of food ate more arthropods and plant material. Fledging success was higher for those using human garbage as a food source. In contrast, a 1984–1986 study of common raven diet in an agricultural region of south-western Idaho found that cereal grains were the principal constituent of pellets, though small mammals, grasshoppers, cattle carrion and birds were also eaten. [4]

One behavior is recruitment, where juvenile ravens call other ravens to a food bonanza, usually a carcass, with a series of loud yells. In Ravens in Winter, Bernd Heinrich posited that this behavior evolved to allow the juveniles to outnumber the resident adults, thus allowing them to feed on the carcass without being chased away. A more mundane explanation is that individuals co-operate in sharing information about carcasses of large mammals because they are too big for just a few birds to exploit. Experiments with baits however show that such recruitment behaviour is independent of the size of the bait. [4]

Furthermore, there has been research suggesting that the common raven is involved in seed dispersal. In the wild, the common raven chooses the best habitat and disperses seeds in locations best suited for its survival. [4]

Owing to its size, gregariousness and its defensive abilities, the common raven has few natural predators. Predators of its eggs include owls, martens, and sometimes eagles. Ravens are quite vigorous at defending their young and are usually successful at driving off perceived threats. They attack potential predators by flying at them and lunging with their large bills. Humans are occasionally attacked if they get close to a raven nest, though serious injuries are unlikely. There are a few records of predation by large birds of prey. Their attackers in America have reportedly included great horned owls, northern goshawks, bald eagles, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks, it is possible that the two hawks only have attacked young ravens, as had a peregrine falcon who in one instance swooped at a newly fledged raven but was successfully chased off by the parent ravens. In Eurasia, their reported predators include, in addition to golden eagles, Eurasian eagle-owls, white-tailed eagles, Steller's sea-eagles, eastern imperial eagles and gyrfalcons. Because they are potentially hazardous prey for raptorial birds, raptors must usually take them by surprise and most attacks are on fledgling ravens. More rarely still, large mammalian predators such as lynxes, coyotes and cougars have also attacked ravens. This principally occurs at a nest site and when other prey for the carnivores are scarce. Ravens are highly wary around novel carrion sites and, in North America, have been recorded waiting for the presence of American crows and blue jays before approaching to eat. [4]

Juveniles begin to court at a very early age, but may not bond for another two or three years. Aerial acrobatics, demonstrations of intelligence, and ability to provide food are key behaviors of courting. Once paired, they tend to nest together for life, usually in the same location.  Instances of non-monogamy have been observed in common ravens, by males visiting a female's nest when her mate is away. [4]

Breeding pairs must have a territory of their own before they begin nest-building and reproduction, and thus aggressively defend a territory and its food resources. Nesting territories vary in size according to the density of food resources in the area. The nest is a deep bowl made of large sticks and twigs, bound with an inner layer of roots, mud, and bark and lined with a softer material, such as deer fur. The nest is usually placed in a large tree or on a cliff ledge, or less frequently in old buildings or utility poles. [4]

Females lay between three and seven pale bluish-green, brown-blotched eggs. Incubation is about 18 to 21 days, by the female only. However, the male may stand or crouch over the young, sheltering but not actually brooding them. Young fledge at 35 to 42 days, and are fed by both parents. They stay with their parents for another six months after fledging. [4]

In most of their range, egg laying begins in late February. In colder climates, it is later, e.g. April in Greenland and Tibet. In Pakistan, egg-laying takes place in December. Eggs and hatchlings are preyed on, rarely, by large hawks and eagles, large owls, martens and canids. The adults, which are very rarely predated, are often successful in defending their young from these predators, due to their numbers, large size and cunning. They have been observed dropping stones on potential predators that venture close to their nests. [4]

Common ravens can be very long-lived, especially in captive or protected conditions; individuals at the Tower of London have lived for more than 40 years. Lifespans in the wild are considerably shorter at typically 10 to 15 years. The longest known lifespan of a banded wild common raven was 23 years, 3 months. [4] 


Black-Billed Magpie

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