We were recently in South Dakota and of course we had to do a little bird watching while we were there. One of the species that I enjoyed seeing was the Black-billed Magpie. Although it is not rare and not really hard to find, the striking black and white pattern always makes me smile.
When I started bird watching I was startled to see a magpie sitting on the back of a deer. I watched it land on the deer’s back, fly away and then land on the deer again four times. This behavior sent me back to the books (this was before the internet) to find out why. It seems that magpies are tolerated by the deer because the birds are removing ticks. The magpies will eat some and then cache some for later use as many members of their family do. The problem with this is that the ticks are stored alive and unharmed. The ticks simply crawl away and resume their lives.
The nest of the Black-billed Magpie is unmistakable. It is a large domed nest, made primarily of sticks and mud. The interior of the nest is lined with hair, grass, bark, or rootlets. The nest can take the birds up to 40 days to build. A recent study found that the pair only spent about 1% of their daily energy to build their nest. The female on the other hand spent 23% of her energy laying the eggs.
As with other members of the corvidae family, the magpies will predate the nests of birds taking both eggs and nestlings. However this predation only makes up a small part of the Black-bill Magpie’s diet. Most of the time the magpie will forage on the ground for insects, grains, with acorns being a favorite, small mammals and some carrion.
When we lived in South Dakota the magpies would sometimes visit our suet feeders and our platform bird feeders. The smaller songbirds would sound the alarm and quickly make the magpie feel unwelcomed. They never stayed very long and we never seemed to be visited on a regular basis. Maybe they just came in with the deer that visited our birdbath for a drink occasionally. :^)