Friday, 11 March 2016

Magpies Nesting

     The annoying, raucous squawk of magpies is one of the most recognizable sounds in the city, around farm yards and open forest and prairie regions of Western Canada and United States. One older gentleman called it a "Smoky Lake Pheasant" as he walked past me the other morning while I was watching a pair of Black-billed Magpies 9 (Pica hudsonia)working on a new nest.

Magpies Working Together on a New Nest

      It is the second week of March and the weather has been uncharacteristically warm all winter. The only bit of snow left hides in the bush or protective shadows. Even Canada Geese have arrived and are standing around on the ice covered flood pond in the center of Sherwood Park.
Courtship Display

     Magpies are opportunistic omnivores that eat almost anything. They pick berries, catch grasshoppers, seeds, small mammals and certainly carrion. They will occasionally raid other bird nests for eggs and maintain a symbiotic relationship with large ungulates picking ticks and other insects from their hides. Because of this relationship with cattle, magpies are vulnerable to toxic poisoning from topically applied chemicals.They will cache food in times of plenty. Magpies have been shot by farmers and have had bounty placed on them at times. In the U.S.A., they are protected as their numbers are declining somewhat.
Nest Building Materials

     Magpies mate for life unless one of the pair dies. They do divorce and cheat when offered the opportunity. They are one of the easiest birds to identify with their black and white coloring with the very long tail. When perched in the sun their black feathers show iridescent flashes of blue and green. They are very intelligent birds belong to the "Corvid" family which includes ravens, crows and jays.
     Even though magpies may not be the most popular of our neighborhood birds, they do much good in the cleanup and disposal field. Pests, carrion and weed seeds are eaten. They can be very entertaining to watch and are one of the birds that do hang around all winter adding a touch of life to an otherwise dull and empty landscape.
Red Squirrel

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