Spend any amount of time in the Vail Valley, and that flash of tuxedo white on black will catch your eye. The graceful, long tail gleams iridescent greens and blues. With a stately black bill and a sparkle in its eye, the Black-billed Magpie is difficult to ignore.
Magpies are smart. They belong to a grouping of birds known as Corvids, which include ravens, crows, and jays. Corvids have the highest brain capacity of all birds and, therefore, seem to rule with ease no matter where you travel. A smart bird is an adaptable bird and, therefore, feeds and shelters itself easier.
Magpies build elaborate nests which look like a basketball-sized jumbled mass of sticks. You’ll often see Magpie flying about in April with a twig in its bill. They build a sturdy platform, and then cover it with a roof of interwoven twigs. Often the roof contains thorny sticks, which serve as barbed protection from predators such as the Great Horned Owl. Very clever, Magpies can add or remove twigs from the roof for climate control to provide ideal temperature for eggs or chicks.
As for finding food, Magpie has an open mind. There’s Magpie on the road enjoying fresh squirrel burger. There’s Magpie emerging from the dumpster, outside of the bakery, with a delicious flaky croissant. Now, there’s Magpie riding on the back of a grazing elk picking insects off of the elk’s back. There’s just no end to the possibilities. To Magpie, the world is full of opportunities.
Free time is important to Magpie: time to attend social gatherings, time spent alone reflecting, and time to just relax in the sun and watch the world go by. Add a little play to everyday, and the seasons whirl by, says Magpie.
The next time you see Magpie, regard him as a wise friend. Magpie says, “Work smarter not harder, in all aspects of your life.”
Tom and Tanya Wiesen are owners of Trailwise Guides; a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in hiking, mountain biking, and natural history tours. Daily private tours are available. Contact Trailwise Guides at (970) 827-5363.
The complex nest of Magpies may contain up to 1500 sticks, and take six weeks to construct. Magpies anchor foundation sticks to a tree or shrub, using fresh mud as mortar. The actual nest is a mud bowl lined with rootlets, grasses, and hair. They then cover the entire nest with a large structural domed roof, usually with two side entrances, large enough for the Magpies to come and go. The male feeds the female while she incubates the eggs, so the eggs are rarely left unattended. Most observers believe that Magpies mate for life.