Black-billed Magpie ~ Pica hudsonia


Photo credit: My Husband =-)

We first saw these beautiful birds out in Colorado. They are not in the Midwest. Black-billed Magpies have a long history in American history. Lewis and Clark wrote about magpies brazenly entering their tents to steal food.


Black-billed Magpie have an interesting behavior. They conduct funerals—when one magpie discovers a dead magpie, it begins calling loudly to attract other magpies. The gathering of loud calling magpies (up to 40 birds have been observed) may last for minutes to hours. I watched a few videos on YouTube, it’s very interesting.


Generally, Black-billed Magpies are considered to be nonmigratory, but varies regionally and by the year. If they choose to migrate, flocks form in about July and typically consist of a few to a hundred birds, occasionally turning into several hundred.


Black-billed magpies, like other corvids, are opportunistic omnivores. Their food choices include cracked corn, suet, sunflower seed, insects, carrion, also picks ticks off backs of wildlife. They forage anywhere food is plentiful, sometimes even from picnic tables, and when food is plentiful, they hide it away for a rainy day. Although they do remember where they put things better than squirrels!


Magpie rhyme:

One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told.


Many had homes in the cliffs in the Garden of the Gods.


Magpie Superstitions Around the World:
  • In China, instead of being a sign of misfortune, European magpie is considered to be a lucky sign. The name is literally “happiness magpie.”
  • In China  a singing Magpie foretells happiness and good luck.
  • An old English folk tale states that when Jesus was crucified on the cross, all of the world’s birds wept and sang to comfort him in his agony. The only exception was the magpie, and for this, it is forever cursed.
  • In many parts of Europe, the Magpie is honored due to the fact it warns people of the approach of wolves and armed men.
  • In German folklore the magpie is seen as a thief.
  • In ancient Greece, the Magpie was associated with Dionysos and intoxication.
  • In both Italian and French folklore, magpies’ penchant for picking up shiny items is thought to be particularly directed towards precious ones.
  • In Korea, the Magpie delivers good news and invites good people into your life. He is also seen as the village spirit. Therefore in Korea, the Magpie is seen as the symbol of good luck and happiness.
  • In the Middle Ages and during the witch-hunts in Europe, the bird was considered to be connected with witchcraft – just like crows, ravens and black cats.
  • In Mongolia, the Magpie is considered a clever bird with control over the weather.
  • In Native America, the Magpie is considered as a friend and helper.
  • In Native American folklore, wearing a magpie feather is a sign of fearlessness in some tribes as the magpie is bold and has little fear.
  • In Norway, a magpie is considered cunning and thievish, sometimes wicked, but a playful and loud bird is also bringer of good weather.
  • In Ancient Rome, the Magpie is sacred and linked to the god Bacchus.
  • In Scandinavia, the Norse snow shoe goddess Skadi was associated with Magpies.
  • In Scotland, a Magpie near the window of the house foretells death.
  • In Scottish folklore, (in a story possibly related to the above) magpies were long reviled for allegedly carrying a drop of Satan’s blood under their tongues.
  • In South Dakota, there is a myth that all the animals had a race to determine if the two legged animals had the right to eat the four legged ones or if it was the reverse. The Bison was winning, but the Magpie was sitting between his horns. As he got close to the finish line she burst forward and won. The Magpie straddles both the inspiration and chaos archetypes.
  • In many parts of the United Kingdom spotting a single magpie is considered bad fortune and saluting it is a way of showing the bird respect in the hope that the magpie won’t pass on some of the misfortune that follows it.
  • The Magpie is featured in some creation myths and one myth is that it allows its tail to be used as a bridge for people needing to cross a river into this world.

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

27 thoughts on “Black-billed Magpie ~ Pica hudsonia

  1. I love all the corvids – so smart! The crows at my parents’ house will come by in winter if they are hungry because they know my mom will toss them some food. They don’t do it often, but it is sort of like they know they have an emergency food source.


  2. Love this! You know that I’m such a magpie fan, but I knew almost none of this stuff, so it’s great to have your introduction to so many intriguing magpie aspects I’d not known before. Same reasons I’m such an admirer of the other corvidae, not least of all for their smarts, their beauty, and their extroverted personalities. Loved this post!


    • Thanks! These guys were so beautiful to see hopping around the red rocks with thier long tails. They didn’t even seem to be fearful of us humans at all. The one in the tree even seemed to ‘strike a pose’ for me while I was stalking him around the tree!


      • The ones in Edmonton, where I most often saw magpies, were much cagier and less inclined to tolerate human company, so I never once got a good shot of one, despite stalking them devotedly. Ah, well, they were still lovely to watch! 😀


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