Fr: Pie d’Amérique
Ang: Black-billed Magpie
All: Schwarzschnabelelster
Esp: Urraca de Hudson
Ita: Gazza americana
Nd: Amerikaanse Ekster
Sd: amerikansk skata


Tom Grey
Tom Grey's Bird Pictures & Tom Grey's Bird Pictures 2

Ken Havard
My Bird Gallery & Flickr gallery 1 & Flickr gallery 2

Patrick Ingremeau

Simon Tan
PBase Bird galleries
Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 14 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-David Christie - Lynx Edicions – ISBN: 9788496553507

FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA - National Geographic Society - ISBN: 0792274512

Avibase (Denis Lepage)

Birdlife International

Birds of the World


All About Birds

Animal Diversity Web (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology) 

Bird Web (Seattle Audubon Society)

Nature Works  


Celebrate Urban Birds

British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas

Flight style of the black-billed magpie: variation in wing kinematics, neuromuscular control, and muscle composition

South Dakota Birds and Birding – (Terry L. Sohl)

What Bird-The ultimate Bird Guide (Mitchell Waite)

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia


Home page

Page family Corvidae

Page Passeriforme Order

Summary cards


Black-billed Magpie
Pica hudsonia

Passeriformes Order – Corvidae Family

The Black-billed Magpie is very similar to the Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica of which it is very closely related. However, the Black-billed Magpie is not known for the “collecting” behaviour of the Eurasian Magpie, and both species are mainly separated by different behaviour, calls and genetics, especially the Mitochondrial DNA sequence which it closer to the Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nutalli) found in California.
The Black-billed Magpie is a North-American Corvidae, very conspicuous and noisy, often perched at treetops or on fence posts. The black plumage contrasts with the bright white wing patches, making the bird very elegant during its graceful gliding flight.
This species is found in W North America, including the Aleutian Islands. It frequents meadows and areas with patches of trees and shrubs along streams, pine forests, suburban areas and agricultural setting where it feeds on a large variety of food items. It is omnivorous.
The Black-billed Magpie is monogamous and nests in a domed structure in tree or other elevated support. Both adults share the nesting duties.

This species is affected by degradation of the habitat, disturbance, and pesticides. It was considered a pest, trapped and killed until mid-20th century. However, the population is now stable and the Black-billed Magpie is not globally threatened.

Length: 45-60 cm
Wingspan: 56-61 cm
Weight: 145-210 g

The Black-billed Magpie is a medium-sized bird, but the long, iridescent tail represents up to half of the length.
The plumage is black-and-white overall. Head to upper breast and upperparts are black. The scapulars are white whereas upperwing and tail show blue-green iridescence. The primary flight-feathers are white with black outer webs and tips and white inner webs, forming a conspicuous wing patch well visible in flight.
On the underparts, the area from lower breast to upper belly and flanks is white, but lower belly and undertail-coverts are black.
The heavy bill is black. The eyes are dark brown. Legs and feet are black.
Male and female have similar plumage, but the female is 10% smaller than the male.

The juvenile is duller than adults, often with buff wash overall and looser plumage texture. It is less iridescent and the tail feathers have more rounded tips.
The immature resembles adult after the first moult, but the white wing patches are smaller.

The Black-billed Magpie is found in W North America, from NW Alaska through Canada to S Manitoba, and S to N Arizona and W Texas.
The range may vary, depending on weather conditions such as heat in desert regions in the south, humidity in the east, and dense boreal forest in the north.

The Black-billed Magpie frequents wooded country with open areas, often close to water. It nests in wooded areas and shrubby thickets, and forages in meadows and clearings. It is also present in rural human settlements such as farm sites and cultivated areas, the latter providing scavenging opportunities.
The Black-billed Magpie also occurs in towns and suburban settings, especially in the northern part of the range. The species can be seen up to 3,000 metres of elevation in mountainous areas.

The Black-billed Magpie has a large repertoire of calls. Two alarm calls are described. The basic alarm call is a harsh rattling varying in both speed and volume, depending on the danger. The staccato alarm call is quicker and usually more excited.
The first call may involve mobbing behaviour, whereas the second call may incite to flee from a dangerous aerial predator.

Several calls described for the Eurasian Magpie, including tweets, trills, coos, purr, squawks and screams can be also used by the Black-billed Magpie.

The song is mostly given by the male during courtship or dominant behaviour. Both mates communicate by “chirp” (female) and “crunch” (male).
The soliciting female produces loud, high-pitched wailing cries while crouching and flapping wings.

Captive birds are able to “speak” a number of words and phrases, but not in the wild.

The Black-billed Magpie is omnivorous and the diet is varied. It feeds on insects more often that most Corvidae, taking grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, beetles and various others. But it also eats carrion, rodents, eggs and chicks of other bird species, and occasionally small snakes.
In winter, the diet also includes berries, seeds and nuts.

The Black-billed Magpie usually forages by walking or hopping, picking food items from the ground or digging into soil and leaf litter. It may also hunt from perches and perform flycatching. It takes ticks from the backs of mammals. It scavenges for roadkills and human refuse along the roadsides. 
It forages alone or in small flocks, and it is known for storing food in small depressions in the ground or the snow.

The Black-billed Magpie sometimes nests in small, loose colonies that vary greatly in nesting density from scattered nests to communal nesting areas. They are monogamous throughout the breeding season, but they may also form long-term pair bond.

During the courtship displays, the male pursues the female while flashing frequently the white wing patches and spreading the long, iridescent tail.
The female calls loudly during this period, and the male performs courtship feeding. These behaviours occur continuously from mating to incubation of the eggs. The male guards its partner to prevent extra-pair copulations, because other males are attracted by the loud calls of the female. 

The Black-billed Magpie is primarily resident, although post-breeding and winter movements are known to occur. Some populations nesting at high elevation in mountains perform altitudinal movements after breeding. These movements can be made in flocks, and the birds may cover very long-distance movements of several hundred kilometres.
Outside of breeding season, the birds form communal roosts consisting of up to several hundred birds.  

The Black-billed Magpie flies with pronounced cyclic variations of wingbeat frequency and amplitude during cruising flight. The flight is usually direct with slow, steady wingbeats.

The egg-laying takes place from late March to early June, with peak in mid-April.
The pair forms in autumn and winter, and both adults build the nest from late January/February, sometimes later in north of the range and at high elevation.
The Black-billed Magpie breeds in small, loose colonies. The nest is built among the branches of a tree or in large shrub, between 1 and 9 metres above the ground. Both adults take part in nest-building, and this work may last between 5 and 7 weeks. The domed nest is 60-120 centimetres high and it is made by the male, whereas the female builds the cup that will receive the eggs. This cup is made with mud and lined with various materials such as hair, grasses, pieces of bark, fibrous roots and feathers. The nest itself is a huge structure made with sticks. There is an entrance hole on either side.

The female lays 6-7 to 5-9 greenish-grey eggs with heavy brown spotting. She incubates alone while the male defends the nest-site and feeds her, both during egg-laying and incubation that lasts 16-21 days, generally about 18.  
The chicks are fed by both parents. The young leave the nest about 25-29 days after hatching, and they still depend on adults for food.

The Black-billed Magpie has numerous predators, and groups of adults and young birds often cooperate in mobbing predators that usually abandon the hunt. This behaviour allows the young to learn what animals are more dangerous.
Among the predators we can find the American Crow, the Common Raven, the Great Horned Owl, the Northern Harrier, the Red-tailed Hawk, the Swainson’s Hawk, and some mammals including weasels, minks, domestic cats, raccoons, coyotes and red squirrels.    

The Black-billed Magpie was killed as pest in the early part of the 20th century, but the widely dispersed poisons to kill wolves and coyotes have caused the decrease of the population. Habitat degradation with conversion of shrub-steppe areas for agriculture was also a threat for this species.
However, some changes in the habitat have involved the increase of the numbers with grasslands becoming savanna with trees, while food availability and nesting habitat have been maintained.
The Black-billed Magpie is widely distributed throughout the large range, and the population is suspected to be stable.
The species is not globally threatened and currently evaluated as Least Concern.