Magpie numbers in Britain and Ireland have quadrupled in the last 35 years.
The increase has been particularly noticeable in suburban areas.
During the winter the magpie’s diet is largely vegetarian, and in the summer predominately ground invertebrates. Only during the spring, when feeding its young, does it become a major predator, raiding the nests of songbirds for eggs and young.
Opinions differ widely on the impact of magpies on nesting birds. Most studies suggest that their impact is minimal, but where magpies have been removed, breeding success of songbirds has improved.
One of the explanations for the magpie’s booming population is thought to be the amount of carrion from road kills available today, providing a year-round food source.
Magpies can be caught legally in Larsen traps, a live-capture trap that uses a decoy bird to lure others into the trap. Many thousands are caught and killed in this way every year.
A male magpie, attracted to a female decoy, will attempt to court and mate with her unless his mate accompanies him, in which case their joint response is aggressive.
Magpies have always been surrounded by superstition, and there are many versions of the poem that begins: One for sorrow, two for joy...
There was an old rural tradition of raising one’s hat to a magpie; now few people wear hats, the tradition has largely died out.
A magpie looks much bigger than it is: the tail makes up half the bird’s length. Its average weight is only about half that of a wood pigeon’s.
They can be found throughout almost all of mainland Europe, from southern Spain and Greece north to Lapland, but are absent from many offshore islands, including Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearics and Iceland.
Pairs usually remain within their territories, but non-breeding birds wander more widely in small gangs or bands.
They are non-migratory, and it’s rare for one to ever travel more than 10km from where it was hatched.
Though most nests are built in trees, where there are no suitable trees they will build on the ground.
A typical nest incorporates a roof, and may have two entrances, but some populations build open nests.
Long-eared owls often adopt old magpie nests.
The date of the first egg being laid is largely the same throughout Europe, with the peak period mid to late April.
In southern Spain great spotted cuckoos often lay their eggs in magpie nests.
In Britain magpies have relatively few enemies apart from man, but in some parts of Europe they are the favourite prey of goshawks.
Communal winter roosts may hold as many as 200 birds.
The roosting birds have usually departed before sunrise.
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