The Black Billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)

black billed magpie

The black billed magpie, also known as the American magpie, Pica hudsonia, or Hudsonian Magpie, is a member of the Corvidae family native to North America and the only bird species in the genus Pica that’s found solely in North America. The species name Hudsonia commemorates English naturalist George Vancouver, who made observations on this species while exploring the Pacific Northwest region of the continent.

Pica hudsonia is an omnivorous bird and its range stretches from the northern United States and southern Canada all the way down to Mexico and Central America. The black-billed magpie’s scientific name translates roughly to the appetite of Hudson – named after the explorer who discovered the first specimen in 1811.

The species was officially documented in 1832 by Audubon, who observed their often aggressive behavior and constant searching of insects, berries, nuts, and nests of other birds for food.

Description

black billed magpie

The black-billed magpie is a member of the Corvidae family and is also called the American magpie. The black billed magpie has a black head, neck, and bill. The rest of their body is white with black wings and tail. They are found in open woodlands and forest edges in western North America.

Magpies are very intelligent birds and have been known to mimic human speech. American magpies can be identified by their all-black bodies with bright yellow eyes. These birds are common throughout Canada, Alaska, and the United States. American magpies live in forests near water sources where they hunt for small mammals, fish, insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

When hunting, these birds will harass other animals until they flush out prey or reveal themselves. It is not uncommon for them to form large flocks that search together.

Scientific Name

The scientific name of the black billed magpie is Pica hudsonia.

Habitat & Distribution

The black-billed magpie is a large songbird that is found in North America. They are most commonly found in the western United States, but can also be found in parts of Canada and Mexico. They prefer open habitats such as grasslands, but can also be found in forests and shrublands.

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Black-billed magpie size and weight

black billed magpie

The black-billed magpie is a large bird, measuring 19-22 inches (48 – 56 cm) in length and weighing between 5-8 ounces.

Plumage

The black billed magpie is a striking bird with black and white plumage. The head, neck, and breast are black, while the wings and tail are white. The belly and underparts are grey. The bill is black, as are the legs and feet. Adult birds have a distinctive white band on their wing.

Molts

The black billed magpie molts twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The process takes about four weeks from start to finish. During this time, the magpie will lose all of its feathers and grow new ones. All of these old feathers are pushed out by the growth of new ones.

Males and females both take part in this molt but do it at different times: males do theirs before they reach breeding age while females do theirs after they have raised their young.

Nesting

Magpies build their nests in trees and often use sticks and twigs to construct them. The female magpie will lay her eggs in the nest, and then incubate them until they hatch. Once the chicks hatch, the parents will care for them until they are old enough to fend for themselves.

They feed them a protein-rich diet of insects, earthworms, lizards, small mammals like mice or voles, carrion, and other small vertebrates. As part of their parenting duties, the adults must also protect the young from predators such as crows or other raptors.

Movements and migration

Black billed magpies are most often found in the western United States and Canada. They’re not long-distance migrants, but they may move to lower elevations in the winter.

You’re most likely to see them in open woodlands, near streams or ponds. In northern states, you might find them at high elevations during the breeding season.

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Diet and Foraging

Black billed magpies are omnivores, which means that they eat both plants and animals. They forage for food on the ground, in trees, and in the air. Their diet consists of insects, small mammals, carrion, berries, and nuts. In the winter months, they will also eat garbage and human food scraps.

Black billed magpies will eat fruits, nuts, and seeds if there’s no other food available. In addition to scavenging for food on the ground, they’ll also climb trees and shrubs looking for caterpillars and eggs.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

The black billed magpie are very vocal birds, often making a variety of sounds including a harsh chattering noise. This species is also known to imitate the calls of other birds in order to lure them into being caught by the magpies and has been observed mimicking chipmunks and squirrels among others. They have been found doing this in both North America and Europe.

Breeding

black billed magpie

Black billed magpies breed in the spring and summer. The female lays 3-7 eggs in a nest made of twigs, leaves, and grass. Both parents help incubate the eggs for 18 days. When the chicks hatch, they are naked and blind.

The parents feed them insects and small mammals. The chicks fledge (leave the nest) after about 4 weeks. They will stay with their parents until fall when they will migrate south to Central America.

Lifespan

The black billed magpie has a lifespan of around 4 to 6 years in the wild. However, they have been known to live up to 10 years in captivity. These birds are relatively common and are not considered to be at risk of extinction.

Conservation and management

The black-billed magpie is a medium-sized bird found in North America. It is most common in the western United States, but can also be found in the eastern and central parts of the country.

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The black billed magpie is not currently listed as endangered or threatened, but it is considered a species of concern due to declining populations in some areas. Conservation and management efforts for this species focus on habitat protection and restoration, as well as education and outreach to reduce human-caused mortality.

In Washington state, black billed magpies are protected under the Endangered Species Act. A number of reintroduction projects have been conducted with success at restoring populations to areas where they had been lost.

These projects typically involve capturing birds from populations that are still viable and releasing them into an area that has seen significant population declines. While these efforts may be successful in the short term, black billed magpies require large amounts of space to find enough food for survival.

Thus, even if population numbers increase after being reintroduced, there may not be enough land available for all of them to survive over time.