Pica pica Linnaeus, 1758
Common names: Eurasian magpie, Common magpie [En], Pie bavarde [Fr], Ekster [Nl], Elster [De], Gazza comune [It], Urraca común [Es]
IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
Vyroneia, SERRES ● Greece
Description: The adult male of the nominate subspecies, P. p. pica, is 44–46 cm in length, of which more than half is the tail. The wingspan is 52–62 cm.
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.
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 International Ornithological Congress recognises ten subspecies:
• P. p. asirensis Bates, 1936 – southwest Saudi Arabia – It differs in having more black in the plumage with a narrower white scapular patch, no white rump, and smaller white areas on the primaries.
• P. p. bactriana Bonaparte, 1850 – Siberia east to Lake Baikal, south to Caucasus, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan – It has more extensive white on the primaries and a prominent white rump.
• P. p. bottanensis Delessert, 1840 – west central China
• P. p. camtschatica Stejneger, 1884 – northern Sea of Okhotsk, and Kamchatka Peninsula in Russian Far East
• P. p. fennorum Lönnberg, 1927 – northern Scandinavia and northwest Russia
• P. p. leucoptera Gould, 1862 – southeast Russia and northeast China
• P. p. mauritanica Malherbe, 1845 – North Africa (Morocco, northern Algeria and Tunisia) – It 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.
• P. p. melanotos A.E. Brehm, 1857 – Iberian Peninsula
• P. p. pica Linnaeus, 1758 – British Isles and southern Scandinavia east to Russia, south to Mediterranean, including most islands
• P. p. serica Gould, 1845 – east and south China, Taiwan, north Myanmar, north Laos and north Vietnam
Biology: The magpie is omnivorous, eating young birds and eggs, small mammals, insects, scraps and carrion, acorns, grain, and other vegetable substances.
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 successive years.
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 chases follow.
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 hedgerows.
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 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. 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.
The 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'.
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 but a few species and the only non-mammal known 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.
Habitat: 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 of cities.
Distribution: The range of the magpie extends across temperate Eurasia from Spain and 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.
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 weather.
Wikipedia, Eurasian magpie