Black-billed Magpies At Their Nest

I can never go to too long without posting a few magpie photos.

There’s no middle ground with magpies – most folks seem to either love them or loathe them. They’re noisy, mischievous, smart, arrogant and cheeky. They sometimes steal songbird eggs which vilifies them with many bird lovers, they’re notorious for stealing dog food off of back porches and patios, suburban birds often begin their raucous cacophony at dawn which shortens many a good nights sleep and they endlessly torment pet dogs and cats. The list of reasons to dislike them seems endless with some folks.

But I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve spent countless hours watching and photographing them on Antelope Island and in my own back yard and they always seem to display behaviors that I find fascinating. And because of their deep blacks and bright whites they’re truly a challenge to photograph well. How could I not love’m?

So I had to present a couple of photos of them this morning to get my magpie fix. Each of these shots was taken within the last week on Antelope island.


1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

These birds are still working on refurbishing an old magpie nest so they present me with many opportunities as they come and go with nesting material. They’ve mostly completed the dome of the nest so they aren’t hauling big sticks anymore – instead they’re bringing in mostly very small twigs and dried grass to line the interior nest cup. This bird is leaving the nest after just such a delivery.

The light on the face of this bird seems just a little odd to me, making it appear as if it has a deeper black mask between its eye and bill. It doesn’t.



1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

I caught the light on this bird just right to get significant iridescence on the wing and tail. The upper part of the domed nest can be seen at lower right.

The settings for these shots aren’t particularly attractive because there’s not much green spring growth yet so the colors are those of dead vegetation from last year. But by the time things green up these birds will be on eggs inside the domed nest and there’ll be significantly fewer opportunities to photograph them.

So I take what I can, when I can.


25 comments to Black-billed Magpies At Their Nest

  • Laura Culley

    It will come as NO surprise to you and others that I’m among the magpie lovers! And I love them BECAUSE “they’re noisy, mischievous, smart, arrogant and cheeky!” Everybody’s got to eat something/someone, and since humanity’s track record on that issue is pretty ugly, I don’t hold that against them in the least! I just love ’em!

  • The colors of magpies are stunning, but hard to catch unless closeup. Thank you.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Beautiful brats in shiny, iridescent, black, silk tuxedos!!!

  • You will be shocked and surprised (not) to learn I fall into the category of people who loves the cheeky, feisty, non-conformist birds. Your magpies are very different to look at than ours (and beautiful) but they seem to share a character.
    The nests of yours are different too – ours look like a random pile of twigs.

  • Susan Cartwright

    Beautiful iridescence. I have only seen one Magpie in my life, and that was in Alaska. They are beautiful.

  • April Olson

    Your first shot looks like he is wind surfing on a twig. I love all birds but I must admit I have a soft spot for Magpies. They are beautiful, smart, mischievous and playful. Once seen who can forget a Magpie funeral. I have had many enriching experiences with Magpies though out my life I can’t imagine my world without them.

  • Levi V.

    Great pictures!
    We as humans have to balance human needs with animal needs, because either extreme is never good. We’ve always lived with nature, and we’ve always thought of certain critters as pests. But now there’s certain people who detest all forms of culling wild animals (even invasive) however legitimate the reason is for doing so, and not understanding how that would effect the environment aside from one less animal. And then there’s some people who just want endless culling and pest control and don’t appreciate the natural order of things either. The two ends go opposite directions in a circle, and then meet up at neither understanding how nature works anyway.

  • Kris Eberhard

    Even dead vegetation can be advantageous –I’m fascinated with birds’ feet , and in your first image, the white twigs allow a really good look at those black claws and legs ( usually buried in green stuff ) !

    • That dead stuff works well for them so I won’t complain about it too much, Kris. Those twigs aren’t really that white but I had to overexpose them to get proper exposure on the mostly black bird.

  • Joanne O'Brien

    Love these Magpie pictures! They bring back a favorite memory of a great road trip through the West in the 80’s . First time I saw one of these guys I was hiking in a steep rocky canyon in Colorado. A beautiful Magpie followed me on a cliff edge path for quite a way. It would flit along in the brush beside me and scold as I walked. I admired the iridescent feathers and the bird’s boldness – it came so close I could have easily touched it. Thanks for the pics and memories !!

    • Wow, that’s close for a magpie, Joanne. I’ve never been quite that close to one, not ever. They’ve been shot and tormented by humans for so many generations that they’re generally not very trusting of us. For good reason…

  • Christina Greutink

    I think all Corvids are marvelous, Ron, and I really enjoy your capturing some of their fascinating behavior. Beautiful shots!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Fantastic shots Ron!


  • Judy Gusick

    They are beautiful even if on my shit list regularly! 🙂 We have some dismantling an old nest at the moment and interesting to watch their ponderings as to which stick to get next! Great shots! 🙂

    • I know that list well, Judy.

      Yes, they often use sticks from old abandoned nests to build or refurbish the one they intend to use. Makes perfect sense to me!

  • Marty K

    There’s some iridescence in the first shot of the little bastar…oops…bird…as well. They are pretty cool and have some interesting behaviors. I find myself liking them very much even if I don’t always like everything they do; must be all the practice I got in the classroom. 😉

    • Marty, I had a pair of them nesting in a tree next to my house for two years. Most of the time I loved watching their behaviors (especially when they’d torment the neighbors cat – literally pulling the tail of the cat repeatedly) but they sure make a lot of damned noise at times!

      Your comparison to the classroom was perfect!

  • Joel Harris

    Ron, we watched a pair of magpie working on their nest on the U of U campus last week. They were quite conversational, but we couldn’t tell if they were agreeing or arguing about how to arrange the furniture.

    These are wonderful pictures with such a nice display of flight feathers. -Joel

    • Joel, “conversational” is right! Amazingly a single bird can sound like three different birds at the same time – especially when they’re in the nest so it can be confusing to keep track of them.