Maghreb magpie (P. p. mauritanica) showing the characteristic blue
patch behind the eye
Eurasian magpie or common magpie (Pica pica) is a resident
breeding bird throughout northern part of Eurasian continent. It is
one of several birds in the crow family designated magpies, and
belongs to the
Holarctic radiation of "monochrome" magpies. In Europe,
"magpie" is used by English speakers as a synonym for the European
magpie: the only other magpie in Europe is the Iberian magpie
Cyanopica cooki), which is limited to the Iberian peninsula.
Eurasian magpie is one of the most intelligent birds, and it is
believed to be one of the most intelligent of all non-human
animals. The expansion of its nidopallium is approximately the same
in its relative size as the brain of chimpanzees, orangutans and
1 Taxonomy and systematics
3 Distribution and habitat
4 Behaviour and ecology
6 Relationship with humans
6.1 Traditions and symbolism
8 Cited sources
9 Further reading
10 External links
Taxonomy and systematics
The magpie was described and illustrated by Swiss naturalist Conrad
Gessner in his Historiae animalium of 1555. In 1758 Linnaeus
included the species in the 10th edition of his
Systema Naturae under
the binomial name Corvus pica. The magpie was moved to a
separate genus Pica by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson
in 1760. Pica is the
Classical Latin word for this magpie.
Eurasian magpie is almost identical in appearance to the North
American black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia) and at one time the two
species were considered to be conspecific. In 2000, the American
Ornithologists' Union decided to treat the black-billed magpie as a
separate species based on studies of the vocalization and behaviour
that indicated that the black-billed magpie was closer to the
yellow-billed magpie (Pica nuttalli) than to the Eurasian magpie.
The gradual clinal variation over the large geographic range and the
intergradation of the different subspecies means that the geographical
limits, and acceptance of the various subspecies, vary between
International Ornithological Congress recognises ten
subspecies (P. p. hemileucoptera is included in P. p. bactriana):
P. p. fennorum – Lönnberg, 1927: northern Scandinavia and northwest
P. p. pica – (Linnaeus, 1758): British Isles and southern
Scandinavia east to Russia, south to Mediterranean, including most
P. p. melanotos – A.E. Brehm, 1857: Iberian Peninsula
P. p. mauritanica – Malherbe, 1845: North Africa (Morocco, northern
Algeria and Tunisia) (sometimes considered a separate species, the
P. p. asirensis – Bates, 1936: southwest Saudi Arabia (sometimes
considered a separate species, the Asir magpie)
P. p. bactriana – Bonaparte, 1850: Siberia east to Lake Baikal,
south to Caucasus, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan
P. p. leucoptera – Gould, 1862: southeast
Russia and northeast China
P. p. camtschatica – Stejneger, 1884: northern Sea of Okhotsk, and
Kamchatka Peninsula in Russian Far East
P. p. serica – Gould, 1845: east and south China, Taiwan, north
Myanmar, north Laos and north Vietnam
P. p. bottanensis – Delessert, 1840: west central China
Steve Madge in the Handbook of Birds of the World
treats the isolated subspecies in southwest Saudi Arabia as a separate
species, the Arabian magpie (P. asirensis). BirdLife International
also started acknowledging the latter as a separate species from 2016,
Maghreb magpie (P. mauritanica).
An analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences published in 2003 confirmed
that the black-billed magpie and the yellow-billed magpie were closely
related to each other. The study also found that magpies in Korea
(described as P. p. serica) are as different from the nominate
subspecies as they are to the North America magpie species. These
results imply that the species Pica pica is not monophyletic. A
more recent study using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA found that
magpies in east and northeast
China are genetically very similar to
each other but differ from those in northwest
China and Spain.
Magpies were originally known as simply "pies". This comes from a
proto-Indoeuropean root meaning "pointed", in reference to either the
beak or the tail. The prefix "mag" dates from the 16th century and
comes from the short form of the given name Margaret, which was once
used to mean women in general (as Joe or Jack is used for men today);
the pie's call was considered to sound like the idle chattering of a
woman, and so it came to be called the "Mag pie". "Pie" as a term
for the bird dates to the 13th century, and the word "pied", first
recorded in 1552, became applied to other birds that resembled the
magpie in having black and white plumage.
In flight, showing the numerous brightly-coloured sheens on its
The adult male of the nominate subspecies, P. p. pica, is
44–46 cm (17–18 in) in length, of which more than half
is the tail. The wingspan is 52–62 cm (20–24 in).
The head, neck and breast are glossy black with a metallic green and
violet sheen; the belly and scapulars (shoulder feathers) are pure
white; the wings are black glossed with green or purple, and the
primaries have white inner webs, conspicuous when the wing is open.
The graduated tail is black, glossed with green and reddish purple.
The legs and bill are black; the iris is dark brown. The plumage
of the sexes is similar but females are slightly smaller. The tail
feathers of both sexes are quite long, about 12–28 cm long.
Males of the nominate subspecies weigh 210–272 g
(7.4–9.6 oz) while females weigh 182–214 g
(6.4–7.5 oz). The young resemble the adults, but are at first
without much of the gloss on the sooty plumage. The young have the
malar region pink, and somewhat clear eyes. The tail is much shorter
than the adults.
The subspecies differ in their size, the amount of white on their
plumage and the colour of the gloss on their black feathers. The
northwest African subspecies P. p. mauritanica differs from the
nominate subspecies in having a patch of blue bare skin behind the
eye, no white patch on the rump, and a longer tail. The southwest
Arabian subspecies P. p. asirensis differs in having more black in the
plumage with a narrower white scapular patch, no white rump, and
smaller white areas on the primaries. The Asian subspecies P. p.
bactriana has more extensive white on the primaries and a prominent
Adults undergo an annual complete moult after breeding. Moult begins
in June or July and ends in September or October. The primary flight
feathers are replaced over a period of three months. Juvenile birds
undergo a partial moult beginning about one month later than the adult
birds in which their body feathers are replaced but not those of the
wings or the tail.
Eurasian magpies have a well-known call. It is a choking chatter
"chac-chac" or a repetitive "chac-chac-chac-chac". The young also emit
the previous call, although they also emit an acute call similar to a
"Uik Uik", which may resemble the barking of a small dog. Both adults
and young can emit a kind of hiss barely noticeable from afar.
Distribution and habitat
The range of the magpie extends across temperate
Eurasia from Spain
Ireland in the west to the
Kamchatka Peninsula and Taiwan in the
east. There are also populations in northwest Africa and on
Mediterranean islands. The species has been introduced in Japan on the
island of Kyushu.
The preferred habit is open countryside with scattered trees and
magpies are normally absent from treeless areas and dense forests.
They sometimes breed at high densities in suburban settings such as
parks and gardens. They can often be found close to the centre
Magpies are normally sedentary and spend winters close to their
nesting territories but birds living near the northern limit of their
range in Sweden, Finland and
Russia can move south in harsh
Behaviour and ecology
P. p. bactriana in Ladakh
Eurasian magpie egg
Some magpies breed after their first year while others remain in the
non-breeding flocks and first breed in their second year. They are
monogamous and the pairs often remain together from one breeding
season to the next. They generally occupy the same territory on
Mating takes place in spring. In the courtship display males rapidly
raise and depress their head feathers, uplift, open and close their
tails like fans, and call in soft tones quite distinct from their
usual chatter. The loose feathers of the flanks are brought over the
primaries, and the shoulder patch is spread so the white is
conspicuous, presumably to attract females. Short buoyant flights and
Magpies prefer tall trees for their bulky nest, firmly attaching them
to a central fork in the upper branches. A framework of the sticks is
cemented with earth and clay, and a lining of the same is covered with
fine roots. Above is a stout though loosely built dome of prickly
branches with a single well-concealed entrance. These huge nests are
conspicuous when the leaves fall. Where trees are scarce, though even
in well-wooded country, nests are at times built in bushes and
In Europe, clutches are typically laid in April, and usually
contain five or six eggs but clutches with as few as three and as many
as ten have been recorded. The eggs are laid in early morning
usually at daily intervals. On average the eggs of the nominate
species measure 32.9 mm × 23 mm (1.30 in
× 0.91 in) and weigh 9.9 g (0.35 oz).
Small for the size of the bird, they are typically pale blue-green
with close specks and spots of olive brown, but show much variation in
ground and marking. The eggs are incubated for 21–22 days by the
female who is fed on the nest by the male. The chicks are
altricial, hatching nearly naked with closed eyes. They are brooded by
the female for the first 5–10 days and fed by both parents.
Initially the parents eat the faecal sacs of the nestlings but as the
chicks grow larger they defecate on the edge of the nest. The
nestlings open their eyes 7 to 8 days after hatching. Their body
feathers start to appear after around 8 days and the primary wing
feathers after 10 days. For several days before they are ready to
leave the nest the chicks clamber around the nearby branches. They
fledge at around 27 days. The parents then continue to feed the
chicks for several more weeks. They also protect the chicks from
predators as their ability to fly is poor making them very
vulnerable. On average only 3 or 4 chicks survive to fledge
successfully. Some nests are lost to predators but an important factor
causing nestling mortality is starvation.
Magpie eggs hatch
asynchronously and if the parents have difficulty finding sufficient
food the last chicks to hatch are unlikely to survive. Only a
single brood is reared unless disaster overtakes the first clutch.
A study conducted near
Sheffield in Britain using birds with coloured
rings on their legs found that only 22% of fledglings survived their
first year. For subsequent years the survival rate for the adult birds
was 69% implying that for those birds that survive the first year the
average total lifespan was 3.7 years. The maximum age
recorded for a magpie is 21 years and 8 months for a bird from near
Coventry in England that was ringed in 1925 and shot in 1947.
The magpie is omnivorous, eating young birds and eggs, small
mammals, insects, scraps and carrion, acorns, grain, and other
Eurasian magpie is believed not only to be among the smartest of
birds but among the most intelligent of all animals. Along with the
jackdaw, the Eurasian magpie's nidopallium is approximately the same
relative size as those in chimpanzees and humans, significantly larger
than the gibbon's. Like other corvids, such as ravens and crows,
their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to most great apes and
cetaceans. A 2004 review suggests that the intelligence of the
corvid family to which the
Eurasian magpie belongs is equivalent to
that of great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas) in terms of
social cognition, causal reasoning, flexibility, imagination, and
Magpies have been observed engaging in elaborate social rituals,
possibly including the expression of grief. Mirror
self-recognition has been demonstrated in European magpies, making
them one of only a few species to possess this capability. The
cognitive abilities of the
Eurasian magpie are regarded as evidence
that intelligence evolved independently in both corvids and primates.
This is indicated by tool use, an ability to hide and store food
across seasons, episodic memory, using their own experience to predict
the behavior of conspecifics. Another behavior exhibiting
intelligence is cutting their food in correctly sized proportions for
the size of their young. In captivity, magpies have been observed
counting up to get food, imitating human voices, and regularly using
tools to clean their own cages. In the wild, they
organise themselves into gangs and use complex strategies[examples
needed] hunting other birds and when confronted by predators.
Marc Bekoff, at the University of Colorado, argues that Eurasian
magpies are capable of feeling complex emotions, including grief.
Eurasian magpie has an extremely large range. The European
population is estimated to be between 7.5 and 19 million breeding
pairs. Allowing for the birds breeding in other continents, the total
population is estimated to be between 46 and 228 million individuals.
The population trend in Europe has been stable since 1980. There
is no evidence of any serious overall decline in numbers, so the
species is classified by the International Union for Conservation of
Nature as being of Least Concern.
Relationship with humans
Traditions and symbolism
In Europe, magpies have been historically demonized by humans, mainly
as a result of superstition and myth. The bird has found itself in
this situation mainly by association, says Steve Roud: "Large
blackbirds, like crows and ravens, are viewed as evil in British
folklore and white birds are viewed as good". In European
folklore, the magpie is associated with a number of superstitions
surrounding its reputation as an omen of ill fortune. In the 19th
century book, A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar,
a proverb concerning magpies is recited: "A single magpie in spring,
foul weather will bring". The book further explains that this
superstition arises from the habits of pairs of magpies to forage
together only when the weather is fine. In Scotland, a magpie near the
window of the house is said to foretell death. An English
tradition holds that a single magpie be greeted with a salutation in
order to ward off the bad luck it may bring. A greeting might take the
form of saying the words ‘Good morning, Mr Magpie, how are Mrs
Magpie and all the other little magpies?’ 
In Britain and Ireland, a widespread traditional rhyme, One for
Sorrow, records the myth (it is not clear whether it has been
seriously believed) that seeing magpies predicts the future, depending
on how many are seen. There are many regional variations on the rhyme,
which means that it is impossible to give a definitive
Hopscotch game with the magpie rhyme
In Italian, British and French folklore, magpies are believed to have
a penchant for picking up shiny items, particularly precious stones or
metal objects. Rossini's opera
La gazza ladra
La gazza ladra and The Adventures of
The Castafiore Emerald
The Castafiore Emerald are based on this theme. However,
one recent research study has cast doubt on the veracity of this
belief. In Bulgarian, Czech, German, Hungarian, Polish,
Russian, Slovak and Swedish folklore the magpie is seen as a thief. In
Sweden, it is further associated with witchcraft. In Norway, a
magpie is considered cunning and thievish, but also the bird of
huldra, the underground people.
Magpies have been attacked for their role as predators, which includes
eating other birds' eggs and their young. However, scientific studies
have contradicted the view that they affect total song-bird
populations, finding "no evidence of any effects of [magpie] predator
species on songbird population growth rates. We therefore had no
indication that predators had a general effect on songbird population
growth rates". Other studies have found that songbird populations
increased in places where magpie populations were high and that they
do not have a negative impact on the total song-bird population.
Qixi Festival and The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl
The European attitude is starkly contrasted with Korea's, where the
magpie is celebrated as "a bird of great good fortune, of sturdy
spirit and a provider of prosperity and development". Similarly,
in China, magpies are seen as an omen of good fortune. This is
even reflected in the Chinese word for magpie, simplified Chinese:
喜鹊; traditional Chinese: 喜鵲; pinyin: xǐquè, in which the
first character means "happiness". It was the official ‘bird of
joy’ for the Manchu dynasty.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pica pica.
Wikispecies has information related to Pica pica
Pica pica in the Flickr: Field Guide Birds of the World
Eurasian magpie media". Internet
Ageing and sexing (PDF; 2.9 MB) by Javier Blasco-Zumeta &
Feathers of Eurasian magpie
Extant species of family Corvidae
Alpine chough (P. graculus)
Red-billed chough (P. pyrrhocorax)
Hooded treepie (C. cucullata)
Black racket-tailed treepie
Black racket-tailed treepie (C. temia)
Andaman treepie (D. bayleyi)
Bornean treepie (D. cinerascens)
Grey treepie (D. formosae)
Black-faced treepie (D. frontalis)
White-bellied treepie (D. leucogastra)
Sumatran treepie (D. occipitalis)
Rufous treepie (D. vagabunda)
Black magpie (P. leucopterus)
Bornean black magpie (P. l. aterrimus)
Ratchet-tailed treepie (T. temnurus)
Common green magpie
Common green magpie (C. chinensis)
Indochinese green magpie
Indochinese green magpie (C. hypoleuca)
Bornean green magpie
Bornean green magpie (C. jefferyi)
Javan green magpie
Javan green magpie (C. thalassina)
Taiwan blue magpie
Taiwan blue magpie (U. caerulea)
Red-billed blue magpie
Red-billed blue magpie (U. erythrorhyncha)
Yellow-billed blue magpie
Yellow-billed blue magpie (U. flavirostris)
Sri Lanka blue magpie
Sri Lanka blue magpie (U. ornata)
White-winged magpie (U. whiteheadi)
Old World jays
Eurasian jay (G. glandarius)
Lanceolated jay (G. lanceolatus)
Lidth's jay (G. lidthi)
Biddulph's ground jay
Biddulph's ground jay (P. biddulphi)
Henderson's ground jay
Henderson's ground jay (P. hendersoni)
Pander's ground jay
Pander's ground jay (P. panderi)
Persian ground jay (P. pleskei)
Piapiac (P. afer)
Stresemann's bushcrow (Z. stresemanni)
Spotted nutcracker (N. caryocatactes)
Clark's nutcracker (N. columbiana)
Black-billed magpie (P. hudsonia)
Yellow-billed magpie (P. nuttalli)
Eurasian magpie (P. pica)
Korean magpie (P. sericea)
jackdaws and rooks)
Australian and Melanesian species
Little crow (C. bennetti)
Australian raven (C. coronoides)
Bismarck crow (C. insularis)
Brown-headed crow (C. fuscicapillus)
Bougainville crow (C. meeki)
Little raven (C. mellori)
New Caledonian crow
New Caledonian crow (C. moneduloides)
Torresian crow (C. orru)
Forest raven (C. tasmanicus)
Grey crow (C. tristis)
Long-billed crow (C. validus)
White-billed crow (C. woodfordi)
Pacific island species
Hawaiian crow (C. hawaiiensis)
Mariana crow (C. kubaryi)
Tropical Asian species
Daurian jackdaw (C. dauuricus)
Slender-billed crow (C. enca)
Flores crow (C. florensis)
Large-billed crow (C. macrorhynchos)
Eastern jungle crow
Eastern jungle crow (C. levaillantii)
Indian jungle crow
Indian jungle crow (C. culminatus)
House crow (C. splendens)
Collared crow (C. torquatus)
Piping crow (C. typicus)
Banggai crow (C. unicolor)
Violet crow (C. violaceus)
Eurasian and North African species
Mesopotamian crow (C. capellanus)
Hooded crow (C. cornix)
Carrion crow (C. corone)
Rook (C. frugilegus)
Jackdaw (C. monedula )
Eastern carrion crow
Eastern carrion crow (C. orientalis)
Fan-tailed raven (C. rhipidurus)
Brown-necked raven (C. ruficollis)
Common raven (C. corax)
North and Central American species
American crow (C. brachyrhynchos)
Northwestern crow (C. caurinus)
Chihuahuan raven (C. cryptoleucus)
Tamaulipas crow (C. imparatus)
Jamaican crow (C. jamaicensis)
White-necked crow (C. leucognaphalus)
Cuban crow (C. nasicus)
Fish crow (C. ossifragus)
Palm crow (C. palmarum)
Sinaloan crow (C. sinaloae)
Tropical African species
White-necked raven (C. albicollis)
Pied crow (C. albus)
Cape crow (C. capensis)
Thick-billed raven (C. crassirostris)
Somali crow (C. edithae)
Iberian magpie (C. cooki)
Azure-winged magpie (C. cyanus)
Grey jay (P. canadensis)
Siberian jay (P. infaustus)
Sichuan jay (P. internigrans)
New World jays
California scrub jay
California scrub jay (A. californica)
Island scrub jay
Island scrub jay (A. insularis)
Woodhouse's scrub jay
Woodhouse's scrub jay (A. woodhouseii)
Florida scrub jay
Florida scrub jay (A. coerulescens)
Transvolcanic jay (A. ultramarina)
Unicolored jay (A. unicolor)
Mexican jay (A. wollweberi)
Black-throated magpie-jay (C. colliei)
White-throated Magpie-jay (C. formosa)
Blue jay (C. cristata)
Steller's jay (C. stelleri)
Black-chested jay (C. affinis)
Purplish-backed jay (C. beecheii)
Azure jay (C. caeruleus)
Cayenne jay (C. cayanus)
Plush-crested jay (C. chrysops)
Curl-crested jay (C. cristatellus)
Purplish jay (C. cyanomelas)
White-naped jay (C. cyanopogon)
Tufted jay (C. dickeyi)
Azure-naped jay (C. heilprini)
Bushy-crested jay (C. melanocyaneus)
Brown jay (C. morio)
White-tailed jay (C. mystacalis)
San Blas jay
San Blas jay (C. sanblasianus)
Violaceous jay (C. violaceus)
Green jay (C. ynca)
Yucatan jay (C. yucatanicus)
Silvery-throated jay (C. argentigula)
Black-collared jay (C. armillata)
Azure-hooded jay (C. cucullata)
White-throated jay (C. mirabilis)
Dwarf jay (C. nana)
Beautiful jay (C. pulchra)
Black-throated jay (C. pumilo)
Turquoise jay (C. turcosa)
White-collared jay (C. viridicyana)
Pinyon jay (G. cyanocephalus)
Fauna Europaea: 97133