Magpie Hunting Insects On The Back Of A Bison

I tend to like unusual perches even when they’re of the furry kind.


1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Yesterday morning on Antelope Island I found this Black-billed Magpie hunting “bugs” on a bison’s back. Bison fur tends to be infested with a variety of insects and magpies often include them as part of their omnivorous diet. Magpies are known for their symbiotic relationship with wild and domestic ungulates and often glean ectoparasites from their fur. Ticks are one of their favorite delicacies but they’re definitely not fussy.

Occasionally I see this magpie behavior with the bison on the island but I’ve seldom been able to photograph it. Sadly the shots I got of this bird as it actually pursued insects buzzing around didn’t include a catch light so I haven’t included them (and I’m not particularly fond of this catch light either because it’s so close to the front corner of the eye) but I still enjoy seeing magpies on a living, furry perch.

I’ve deliberately cropped this image to include more of the bison which places the bird fairly high in the frame.



But a different crop of the same image shows what the magpie was after – small flying insects of some unknown (to me) species that heavily infested the bison’s fur. This bird definitely has its eye on them. I was just a little surprised that the magpie would go after such small prey but….. food is food.



And here’s a look at the entire furry perch. As is typical of these situations the big bull completely ignored the magpie on its back.

Ornithologists suspect that magpies deliberately swallow hair when they land on the backs of cattle and wild ungulates as an aid to pellet formation so perhaps this one had a fur ball or two for dessert.






30 comments to Magpie Hunting Insects On The Back Of A Bison