magpie

magpie

[mag-pahy]
magpie, common name for certain birds of the family Corvidae (crows and jays). The black-billed magpie, Pica pica, of W North America has iridescent black plumage, white wing patches and abdomen, and a long wedge-shaped tail. It is altogether about 20 in. (50 cm) long. Magpies build large, domed nests in trees. Nest-building is part of courtship. The female alone incubates the eggs. Magpies destroy other birds' eggs and young and kill sickly, wounded, or newborn sheep and cows by pecking. They are scavengers (often collecting small bright objects), but they also eat harmful insects as well as fruits, berries, and leaves. Noisy, chattering birds, in captivity they can be taught to imitate some words. The yellow-billed magpie is found in the valleys of California. The European magpie is closely related to the American; other species are found in Asia and Africa. The magpie-lark belongs to a different family, Grallinidae. Magpies are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Corvidae.

Any of several genera of long-tailed songbirds of the crow family (Corvidae). The black-billed magpie (Pica pica) is 18 in. (45 cm) long and strikingly pied (black-and-white), with an iridescent blue-green tail. It is found in North Africa, across Eurasia, and in western North America. A bird of farmlands and tree-studded open country, it eats insects, seeds, small vertebrates, the eggs and young of other birds, and fresh carrion. It makes a large, round nest of twigs cemented with mud, and is known for hoarding small, bright objects. Other species (in the genera Cyanopica, Cissa, and Urocissa) include the brilliant blue or green magpies of Asia.

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Magpies are passerine birds of the crow family, Corvidae. The names 'jay' and 'magpie' are to a certain extent interchangeable, although this does not accurately reflect the evolutionary relationship between these birds. For example, the Eurasian Magpie seems more closely related to the Eurasian Jay than to the Oriental Blue and Green Magpies, whereas the Blue Jay is not as closely related to either within the Corvid family.

In Europe, "magpie" is often used by English speakers as a synonym for the European Magpie, as there are no other magpies in Europe outside Iberia.

The bird was referred to as a "pie" until the late 16th century when the feminine name "Mag" was added to the beginning. The European Magpie is the only non-mammal known to be able to recognize itself in a mirror.

Systematics and species

According to recent analysis, magpies do not form the monophyletic group they are traditionally believed to be — a long tail has certainly evolved (or shortened) independently in multiple lineages of corvid birds. Among the traditional magpies, there appear to be two evolutionary lineages: One consists of Holarctic species with black/white coloration and is probably closely related to crows and Eurasian jays. The other contains several species from South to East Asia with vivid coloration which is predominantly green or blue. The Azure-winged Magpie is a species with a most peculiar distribution and unclear relationships. It may be the single survivor of a long extinct group of corvid genera.

Other recent research has cast doubt on the taxonomy of the Pica magpies, since it appears that P. hudsonia and P. nuttalli may not be different species, whereas the Korean race of P. pica is genetically very distinct from the other Eurasian (and even the North American) forms. Either the North American, Korean, and remaining Eurasian forms are accepted as 3 or 4 separate species, or there exists only a single species, Pica pica.

Holarctic (black-and-white) magpies

Oriental (blue/green) magpies

Azure-winged Magpie

Other magpies

The Black Magpie, Platysmurus leucopterus, despite its name, is neither a magpie nor, as was long believed, a jay, but a treepie. Treepies are a distinct group of corvids externally similar to magpies.

The Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, is conspicuously piebald, with black and white plumage reminiscent of a European Magpie, but it is not a corvid.

Magpies in culture

Most English language cultural references to magpies are those for the European Magpie, since the word "magpie" usually refers to that species. Magpies are symbols of good luck in China and Korea, in contrast with their relatives the crows, which are portents of bad omens. In Britain and Ireland, magpies may represent good or bad luck of various forms in a complex manner, depending on the number of magpies present, according to various traditional rhymes such as "One for sorrow, two for joy..." or "One for sorrow, two for mirth...

References

  • Anonymous (2006): The Word Origin Calendar: Sat./Sun. March, 11-12, 2006. Accord Publishing.
  • Ericson, Per G. P.; Jansén, Anna-Lee; Johansson, Ulf S. & Ekman, Jan (2005): Inter-generic relationships of the crows, jays, magpies and allied groups (Aves: Corvidae) based on nucleotide sequence data. Journal of Avian Biology 36: 222-234. PDF fulltext
  • Lee, Sang-im; Parr, Cynthia S.; Hwang, Youna; Mindell, David P. & Choe, Jae C. (2003): Phylogeny of magpies (genus Pica) inferred from mtDNA data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution'' 29: 250-257. PDF fulltext
  • Tickner, Lisa "One for sorrow, two for mirth". Oxford Art Journal, Retrieved on 2007-03-02.

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