What do Magpies Eat?

by Russ H on April 6, 2013

The glossy blue-green feathers of the magpie can be seen when the bird is in the sunlight.There is one common bird in our garden that never fails to split opinion. The magpie, with it’s black, white and glossy green feathers, can be seen right across our country . This relative of the crow is a highly social and intelligent bird, but it’s ASBO behaviour can puts it in many people’s bad books. But why do magpies have this aggressive reputation? To find the answer, you need to look at what the birds are eating.

Berries are a brilliant source of energy for magpies, especially during the colder months.Magpies belong to a group of birds called corvids, which includes crows, jays and magpies among others. This family of birds is among the very smartest, with magpies able to solve puzzles, mimic human speech and recognise itself in a mirror. They need this intelligence because their diet is very varied. They’ll eat berries and seeds from plants but can often be seen walking across large fields looking for insects and worms. They are also fantastic scavengers and are one of the first birds to be spotted in urban environments. This opportunistic and omnivorous diet means these birds have a better chance of enduring the harshest of seasons.

In winter, magpies form large flocks to look for food.To find their food, magpies rely on their keen senses but also each other. Magpie pairs mate for life and when they have fledged chicks, the family will spend hours searching for food in their home range. More eyes and ears are better for spotting the next meal. Although scraps may occur when something really valuable (or tasty)  is found, the benefits of family life out-way the squabbling. In winter, different flocks will even join forces to increase the chances of finding food.

Magpies will take young birds and eggs if they get the chance, but their diet is mostly vegetarian.Their varied diet does however have a darker side. In spring many smaller birds are nesting and magpies will, if given the chance, take bird eggs and also chicks from the nest. This may be one of the biggest factors for the magpie’s ‘aggressive’ reputation. It may be hard to watch when this happens in the garden, but it is all part of the ecosystem. By taking a percentage of each year’s chicks, magpies are reducing the number of birds who will become adults.

If all chicks born lived to adulthood, the hunting pressure on insects and grubs could mean that the birds would eat all available food and be left hungry. Magpie predation therefore plays it’s part in keeping the ecosystem, and all the creatures who rely upon it, in a natural balance.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Emma Ruiz Enriquez July 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Hi Russ,

I have magpies in my garden and I also have cats. Is it normal for magpies to eat cat food? The seem to have found the “perfect” free-ready-to-go meal, but I’m not sure if that’s good for them. What do you think?

Thank you so much!



Russ July 23, 2013 at 11:54 am

Hi Emma,

Thanks for getting in touch. You sound like you have some very lucky magpies. The cat food is a good source of protein for them and to my knowledge there shouldn’t be anything too bad in there for them. They will naturally continue to forage for other food sources and as long as they have this mix they will have a healthy diet.

All the best,



maria mc comiskey September 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm

hello.. my dog got a baby magpie,, don’t think it is hurt bad.. its young and cant fly yet.. how r what should I try 2 feed it thank u ……… maria


alan September 27, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I was looking out of the window and saw what i thought might be a wild mushroom (some sort of agaricus). Just as i was looking and straining my eyes trying to see if it was a mushroom, a magpie came over to it, pulled it out the ground and started pecking it, so i then knew it was a mushroom, i wonder if they eat mushrooms or if it was checking for maggots!


Ivory Reynaga March 28, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Magpies are quite the interesting bird they are! Done a lot of observing of them. My favorite bird. Quite cool to now what they eat now. Thanks a bunch!


Lilly May 14, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Hi, I have a little baby magpie and I’ve heard that they can eat cat food but it must be combined with some more ingredients, is it true? and if yes, what kind of ingredients ?


Russ May 15, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Hi Lily,

I’m not sure what formula would be best for a young magpie. Catfood seems to be a good starting choice. The best thing to do is contact your nearest wildlife/bird rescue centre for some more advice.

One thing I can say is to avoid large chunks in the food, a nice mush of food and little and often would be the best approach for the young bird. I will be in touch with further details.

Many thanks for getting in touch,



Anna Beckmann Adams May 17, 2014 at 11:52 am

This comment is from my daughter aged 8 who is researching magpies for a school project:
Although I don’t like the idea of magpies eating chiks out of other birds nests I understand that they have to keep nature running properly.


Dave June 15, 2014 at 10:00 am

We have an injured magpie in our garden, it can get about but it can’t fly. We have been feeding it bread in the mornings, but are wondering what else it can be fed. The bird is paired up and it’s mate is still supporting it.


Elaine Mann July 2, 2014 at 9:58 pm

I was concerned today as two magpies were paying too much attention to my rabbits in their pen. Just as I was going out one rabbit showed some aggression and they flew off. I read somewhere that they can kill and eat rabbits so will have to watch them.


Colin July 18, 2014 at 11:39 am

Magpies seem to love cat food.A Magpie eats my cat’s food every day.


Dave November 25, 2014 at 1:27 am

I was wondering if magpies are known to feed on carcasses other than birds. I recall in a movie one time where the discussion of a dead body was found, and one of the police officers had said there wasn’t much left of the body because magpies had gotten to it. Can this truly happen?


Russ February 16, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Hi Dave. Magpies will indeed feed off the carcasses of other animals, including deer. However, in this scenario, (and without getting too grim) magpies would probably struggle to get past clothing. Something else with sharper claws, teeth or beaks would be needed for that job!


J January 9, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Hey I have a pet magpie named joe ; never tried cat food , he eats cranberry granola bars ; he loves them , goin to try cat food to . Thanks


ash May 10, 2015 at 6:10 am

About six months ago I stated putting nuts out on my window sill and a couple of magpies and a blackbird regularly come over. The magpies were very cautious at first, if they saw me in the room they would grab a nut and fly away. Now they don’t seem to mind if I’m in the room. Just last week the nuts had finished and I hadn’t topped it up for a few days and one morning I was leaving for work. I was walking down the street and one of the magpies flew down and sat on a wall a few just ahead of me and as I walked along he jumped ahead to a wheelie bin a few doors down and then again. I think s/he was telling me I need to top up the nuts! I have to say they are very handsome and very intelligent birds. I don’t know about cat food, but I may try some dried cranberries and sunflower seeds.


Clarissa dennison May 19, 2015 at 11:05 am

Hi, I recently bought a field camera and set it up in our wood (mainly oak and ash) where the ground had been disturbed, hoping to see foxes or badgers at work. However, the video revealed a large crowd of magpies – could have been up to 15 – all rooting around in the leaf mould .is this normal behaviour? And what would they be looking for?


Russ H July 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Hi Clarissa, sounds like you were lucky with your camera! Magpies live in extremely social groups and as such will often search for food together. It sounds like this is what your group (or tidings) of magpies were looking for. But seeing such a large group is not uncommon – different families of magpies will sometimes work together to look for food. The birds are very vulnerable to predators on the ground and more eyes and ears means more chances to spot a potential enemy.


Becky July 2, 2015 at 9:39 pm

Hi I have a baby magpie with injured wing vets will just pts so I’ve brought it inside but unsure what to do next
It has all feathers so not too young but if I left it my cars would have killed it


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