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Magpie Madness

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How better to define and excite a beautiful landscape than with a bird of paradise?

Those who live among black-billed magpies may become inured to their charms. It would take centuries to inure me to a bird this magnificent.

John and Durrae moved to Bozeman from Pennsylvania. They've lived here almost as long as we've lived in Ohio--17 years or so. But they still love the magpies.

They love them so much they buy big bags of cat food to keep them fat and sassy.


Well, who wouldn't want to see something like this on their deck a couple of times a day? The air rang with their jaunty jake-jake calls.

Note the bit of kibble in mid-gulp on the right-hand bird...


I could have spent days capturing flight images of magpies through the sliding glass doors. Had it not been cold, I'd have loved to open them and sit just inside, the house as my blind.

These birds are one big flash pattern. Pure white primary feathers are rather rare; generally the flight feathers of birds are dark, because melanin strengthens them, and the primaries, being propellers, take the brunt of the wear. They do have a nifty black picotee edge, which I'm sure helps with preventing too much wear. You can see that edging in Photo 2.

The pied coloration of magpies has to do with sending visual signals over vast open terrain, with gathering one's compatriots for raids and mischief. Nothing translates like black and white in these huge, often low-contrast spaces.

Magpies are a gift to the Montana landscape. Though I'm sure our nesting songbirds would disagree (magpies have an appetite for eggs and chicks), a few magpies sure would dress up the meadows of Ohio. Bet they'd love Zick Dough.

10 comments:

I love magpies! My husband and I were on a trip to Pueblo, CO last summer and first experienced their glory! Our host's father told us that they are considered "trash birds" out there. I didn't care! I was so excited to see them!

Posted by Alyssa Valenti September 7, 2010 at 11:58 AM

I love seeing these magpies with their black bills. The only ones I ever see are the ones with yellow bills at a rest stop along a stretch of California Highway 101. They are such strikingly pretty birds. Whenever I see them I am reminded of Gary Snyder's poem "Magpie's Song" that has these lines:

"Magpie on a bough
Tipped his head and said,

'Here in the mind, brother
Turquoise blue.'"

Not sure why, but I have always loved those lines.

Love our local magpies! There is a family of them that nests in one of the ravines just east of us. I see them almost daily on my way to school in the morning. Occasionally they visit the yard, usually for a drink in the birdbath, maybe I should share Lucifer's catfood with them. Last fall there was a gathering of several families on an outing to somewhere, there were 23 of them heading off for some purpose. They looked like a traveling minstrel show from Merrie Olde England.

Oh wow, incredible photos (especially the midair kibble-niblet one!) I love magpies, too--my mom is from England and I have vivid memories of seeing the European variety (separate species, apparently, but virtually identical physically) hanging around parks on visits there as a kid, a sharp contrast to the gray drizzle. I'd love to see them against a mountain backdrop!

Oh man, I love magpies! I saw my first one last summer in Saskatchewan, and the locals I was with couldn't figure out why I was so excited about what was (to them) a dirt-common bird. On a recent trip out west with my parents I made it my mission to get my mom her life Black-billed Magpie, and she finally spotted one from the car as we drove along the highway. It was awesome.

Wow, I didn't realize Magpies weren't common to everyone. I enjoy them - they are incredibly smart, hilariously mischevious and will torment house pets for HOURS. Our biology teacher had one that could do some mimicking, which was very cool.

I received an email some time back about an albino moose. The email claimed it was spotted in the UP of Michigan (I live in the lower peninsula). I read the story and looked at the pics and thought, Cool, "we" have an albino moose! Then I noticed the black billed magpie in a few of the photos and thought Hey, "we" don't have magpie in Michigan! That striking bird was a dead give-away.

I watched magpies strip CLEAN the carcass of a 150# white tail deer in 72 hours. If I hadn't watched it with my own eyes, I'd never have believed it! It was so unbelievably amazing that every day I would go out and take video and photos of it--a little gruesome, no doubt, but I was fascinated! [I'm in eastern WA]

fabulous magpies; how I love them!
When I lived i Bozeman, a friend had a big old spruce that magpies would nest in. I can tell you that a nest of baby magpies WILL wear out their welcome, however much you love them. :-)

But then of course they leave the nests, with their stubby baby tails making them look not-quite-magpie-ish.

I think magpies are such cool birds and wish we had them in SE Minnesota (maybe along with a few ravens!) I've seen the yellow-billed magpies in California and my brother told me they're considered "trash birds" out there too. Hard to imagine people don't appreciate such a neat and beautiful bird.

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