Nov 14 2010

A Crow in Jay’s Clothing?


To those of us in eastern North America this bird looks all mixed up. 

He has a crow head, blue jay colors and an incredibly long tail.  He resembles crows and jays because he’s a corvid.  We don’t see him in Pennsylvania because he lives west of Iowa and east of the Sierra Nevadas.  Say hello to the black-billed magpie.

I saw this bird once.  But now I have never seen him.  Years ago I saw a magpie outside my airplane window as we taxied to the gate at Charles de Gaulle airport.  Then, in their never-ending quest to reclassify birds the American Ornithological Union split the black-billed magpie from the European magpie and this bird dropped off my life list.   He is now Pica hudsonia.  The bird I saw in Paris was a Pica pica.

If I visited open country in the western U.S. I could easily re-add this bird to my list.  Black-billed magpies are loud and conspicuous, midway in size between blue jays and American crows.  Like crows they are smart, omnivorous and versatile.  Their claim to fame is their very long tail (more than half their body length) and their huge ball-shaped stick nests.

Maybe I should fly to Denver and look out the airplane window.  ;)

(photo by Julie Brown)

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “A Crow in Jay’s Clothing?”

  1. faith cornellon 14 Nov 2010 at 11:55 am

    This really is a beautiful bird. Never saw one, would never have been able to guess I was seeing it. Would maybe have thought their parents were 2 different breeds or something. Thanks for sharing as always and the info. Love this learning stuff. Keeps my mind young.

  2. Nairnon 14 Nov 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Western Canadian singer/songwriter Ian Tyson has a wonderful song called “Magpie”. I’ve been listening to the album that it’s on the last few days. He calls the magpie “coyote in the sky”!
    Song is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7o9-Anzrso

    Nairn
    in Ontario

  3. Anne Marieon 15 Nov 2010 at 6:57 am

    I was so excited to discover that I actually knew what this bird was! My sister lives in Colorado. I even remember the first time I saw this bird about 20 yrs ago and remarked how beautiful it was. My sister was not impressed since it was everywhere.. and was a nuisance (according to her). I highly recommend a trip to Colorado…

  4. NDPeteron 16 Nov 2010 at 9:03 am

    Anne Marie, I have had the exact same response! I have a friend that lived in Montana for a few years and so I was able to make some visits. I’d bring a halt to the hike, drive, whatever we were doing so I could watch the magpies. They were not impressed! I am still harassed about this when I talk to them.

    I never did notice the blue on their backs though. I wonder if the feathers are similar to starlings, especially the golden-breasted starlings, where the feather isn’t colored, but rather the angle at which you view reflects the light differently giving the impression of color. Hmmmm.

  5. TJon 17 Nov 2010 at 2:16 pm

    May years ago, I was in Denver for a conference and noticed these birds all over the place. During a visit with a friend from the area, I asked her about them, and she was shocked I was unfamiliar with them (after all, I’d grown up in New Mexico – but never really paid attention to birds as a kid). She figured I should at least know them from the Heckle & Jeckle cartoons. :^)

  6. Elizabethon 20 Nov 2010 at 9:55 am

    We have tons of them in Salt Lake City. Come visit! They’re very common but I never get tired of them because they’re beautiful and have a lot of personality. They like to do things in groups and it always looks like they’re conspiring.

    Nairn, every time I hear a magpie call I think of that Ian Tyson song. I thought I was the only one!

  7. Nairnon 20 Nov 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Elizabeth, I just discovered Tyson’s “Magpie” a few weeks ago; I thought I knew most of his songs, but really didn’t. Am having a good time educating myself, courtesy of iTunes. :-)

  8. Maryon 23 Nov 2010 at 11:35 pm

    I’ve seen these guys in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I lived for 4 years. There aren’t many in town, but the closer one is to the mountains the more likely it is to spot them. They seem to like the higher elevation pinon forests.

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