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.
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.
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.
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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Take care, and stay on the wild side.