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Magpies: Not only Black and White

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Eurasian magpie (left) is one of the few species of birds which can recognise itself in a mirror test.  As they stand out so much with their black and white plumage you might imagine that this is something which is relatively easy to do.  After all, when we think of magpies we think in black and white too!  Yet magpies are not only black and white.  There are other species which belie the general belief that all magpies are: here are some exceptions that prove the rule.

The Common Green Magpie
Image Credit Jasonbkk
Around the size of a Eurasian jay this magpie is a vivid green with a thick black stripe from the bill to the nape which crosses the eyes, giving it a vaguely superhero-in-disguise look (although this bird is probably more villain than hero).  To see one in the wild you would have to go to the Himalayas, central Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra and Broneo.  The common green magpie (Cissa chinensis) makes its home in evergreen forest and is hunts small mammals and reptiles.  It will often raid the nests of other birds and carry away young birds or, if they are not yet hatched, will devour the eggs before making their getaway.

Image Credit guppie cat

The Iberian Magpie
Image Credit andymag
Image Credit Blake Matheson
Spain and Portugal are home to this beautiful bird with its glossy black top and dazzling azure blue wing feathers.  Although it is similar in shape to the Eurasian magpie it is has a more slender frame and smaller bill and legs.  They can be found in family groups which often merge meaning that flocks of up to 100 Iberian magpies are not uncommon.  Although they will eat small invertebrates they mostly eat acorns and pine nuts in their forest homes.  Those which have found themselves in towns and cities will take scraps of people without fear.

Image Credit andymag

The Taiwan Blue Magpie
Image Credi jennyhsua
As you can see, as well as the blue feathers the Taiwan blue magpie has much longer tail feathers than the European black and white variety.  This gorgeous looking species was chosen to be Taiwan’s national bird in 2007. You can see why.  It lives at elevations of 300 to 1200m in the mountains of the island.  The rich blue of its feathers are offset beautifully by the white markings on the tail.

Image Credit wagtail
This species of magpies will defend their nest without mercy and will also quickly form a ‘pack’ to protect their chicks, defending against imposters as a gang.  They eat virtually anything they can dismember and create larders on the ground – surplus food which they hide and retrieve at a later date.  They have even been known to store food in the branches of trees.

Image Credit Daoan

The Red-billed Blue Magpie
Image Credit Charles Lam
This species of magpie is remarkable for the length of its tail feathers – longer than any magpie or, for that matter, or any member of the crow family. It is found in the northern parts of the India through to Vietnam and prefers to live at heights, in hilly or mountainous country.  Like most other species of magpies it will eats a variety of food from small mammals to fruit and seeds.  It is also a nest robber and will take eggs and chicks when the opportunity arises.

Image Credit Aaron Maizlish
Image Credit Blake Matheson

The Sri Lanka Blue Magpie
Image Credit Koshyk
Endemic to the island of Sri Lanka, this magpie lives in dense evergreen rain forest.  Its eating habits are similar to those of all other magpie species.  However, unlike the others it is declining in numbers because of loss of habitat.  Although both sexes will make the nest in which up to five eggs are laid only the females will incubate them.  It is about the same size as the European magpie.

Image Credit Thimindu

Indochinese Green Magpie
Image Credit nebarnix
Most people remark that this magpie looks rather more blue than green! It’s also called the yellow-breasted magpie for not seemingly apparent reason and can be found in China and Vietnam.  However, like all of the species above, this certainly puts paid to the idea that magpies are only black and white!

Image Credit Wikimedia
Eurasian Magpie Image Credit

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