Magpies, or Skunkbirds as my kiddos call them, frequent the area…
- Historical records of the American West indicate that Black-billed Magpies have been associates of people for a long time. Magpies frequently followed hunting parties of Plains Indians and fed on leftovers from bison kills. On their expedition, Lewis and Clark reported magpies boldly entering their tents to steal food.
- Like most members of the jay family, the Black-billed Magpie is a nest predator, although eggs and nestlings make up only a tiny portion of the bird’s overall diet.
- The Black-billed Magpie makes a very large nest that can take up to 40 days to construct. It’s a lot of work, but a study found that it only used about 1% of the daily energy expenditure of the pair. Laying eggs, on the other hand, takes 23% of the female’s daily energy budget.
- The Black-billed Magpie frequently picks ticks from the backs of large mammals, such as deer and moose. The magpie eats the ticks or hides some for later use, as members of the crow and jay family often do with excess food. Most of the ticks, however, are cached alive and unharmed, and may live to reproduce later.
- The longest-living Black-billed Magpie on record was at least 9 years, 4 months old and lived in Idaho.
Black-billed Magpies live among the meadows, grasslands, and sagebrush plains of the West. Their nesting territories often follow stream courses. Though they like open areas and are not found in dense woods, they stay close to cover for protection from raptors. Magpies don’t avoid human development, often spending time near barnyards, livestock areas, and grain elevators where they have ready access to food.
Like other corvids (members of the jay and crow family), Black-billed Magpies have a wide-ranging diet. They eat wild fruit and grain, as well as grasshoppers and beetles that they find while foraging on the ground (they sometimes find beetles by flipping cow dung). They also kill small mammals such as squirrels and voles, and raid birds’ nests. Carrion is also a main food source, as are the fly maggots found in carrion. Sometimes they steal meat from the kills of coyotes and foxes. Magpies also land atop large animals, such as cows or moose, and pick ticks off them. When they find an abundant food source, magpies will cache food for short periods
Size & Shape
Black-billed Magpies are slightly larger than jays with much longer, diamond-shaped tails and heavier bills. In flight, their wings seem to be too short to support their graceful flight.
These birds are black and white overall with blue-green iridescent flashes in the wing and tail. The upperparts are mostly black with a white patch in the outer wing and two white stripes (“backpack straps”) on the back.
Find more info here…