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Birds of Sweden 2016 35.jpg
Eurasian Magpie, Sweden 2016
Scientific classification

Magpies are birds of the Corvidae family. Like other members of their family, they are widely considered to be intelligent creatures. The Eurasian magpie, for instance, is thought to rank among the world's most intelligent creatures,[1][2] and is one of the few non-mammal species able to recognize itself in a mirror test.[3] They are particularly well known for their songs and were once popular as cagebirds. In addition to other members of the genus Pica, corvids considered as magpies are in the genera Cissa, Urocissa, and Cyanopica.

Magpies of the genus Pica are generally found in temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and western North America, with populations also present in Tibet and high-elevation areas of Kashmir. Magpies of the genus Cyanopica are found in East Asia and the Iberian Peninsula. The birds called magpies in Australia are, however, not related to the magpies in the rest of the world.[4]


References dating back to Old English call the bird a "pie", derived from Latin pica; this term has fallen out of use.[5] The tendency in previous centuries was to give birds common names, such as robin redbreast (which now is called the robin), jenny wren, etc. The magpie was originally variously maggie pie and mag pie.[6] The term "pica" for some pregnant women's craving to eat nonfoods is related to the tendency of the magpie (Pica pica) to feed on miscellaneous things.[7]

Systematics and species[edit]

According to some studies, magpies do not form the monophyletic group they are traditionally believed to be; tails have elongated (or shortened) independently in multiple lineages of corvid birds.[8] Among the traditional magpies, two distinct lineages apparently exist. One consists of Holarctic species with black and white colouration, and is probably closely related to crows and Eurasian jays. The other contains several species from South to East Asia with vivid colouration, which is predominantly green or blue. The azure-winged magpie and the Iberian magpie, formerly thought to constitute a single species with a most peculiar distribution, have been shown to be two distinct species, and are classified as the genus Cyanopica.[9]

Other research has cast doubt on the taxonomy of the Pica magpies, since 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 (as well as the North American) forms. Either the North American, Korean, and remaining Eurasian forms are accepted as three or four separate species, or else only a single species, Pica pica, exists.[10]

Holarctic (black-and-white) magpies

Oriental (blue and green) magpies

Azure-winged magpies

Other "magpies"[edit]

  • The black magpies, Platysmurus, are treepies; they are neither magpies, nor as was long believed, jays. Treepies are a distinct group of corvids externally similar to magpies.
  • The Australian magpie, Cracticus tibicen, is conspicuously "pied", with black and white plumage reminiscent of a Eurasian magpie. It is a member of the family Artamidae and not a corvid.
  • The magpie-robins, members of the genus Copsychus, have a similar "pied" appearance, but they are Old World flycatchers, unrelated to the corvids.

Cultural references[edit]

East Asia

In East Asian culture, the magpie is a very popular bird. It is a symbol of good luck and good fortune.

The magpie is a common subject in Chinese paintings. It is also often found in traditional Chinese poetry and couplets. In addition, in the folklore of China, all the magpies of the Qixi Festival every year will fly to the Tianhe River and set up on a bridge, where the separated Cowherd and Weaver Girl will meet, so that the bridge has come to symbolize a relationship between men and women.

Magpies have an important place in the birth myth of Ai Xinjue Luo Bukuri Yushun, the ancestor of the Qing dynasty.

The Korean magpie, sometimes referred to as the Asian magpie or Chinese magpie, is a national bird of Korea.


Magpies are also found widely in the northern areas of Pakistan, especially Baltistan. The common name in Baltistan is khaa-strap.


Occurring across most of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. They can be found widely in Bangladesh too. Magpies are common birds in urban gardens as well as forests.


In European culture the magpie is reputed to collect shiny objects such as wedding rings and other valuables, a well known example being Rossini's opera La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). Recent research[11] has shown little truth in the legend, and magpies, like many animals, are actually unsettled by shiny, blue, or otherwise unusual objects.

In England "a magpies nest" was a phrase used to describe something untidy and usually of little value.



  1. ^ Connor, Steve (19 August 2008). "Magpies reflect on a newly discovered intellectual prowess". The Independent.
  2. ^ "Eurasian Magpie: A True Bird Brain". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  3. ^ Prior H, et al. (2008). De Waal F (ed.). "Mirror-Induced Behavior in the Magpie (Pica pica): Evidence of Self-Recognition". PLOS Biology. Public Library of Science. 6 (8): e202. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060202. PMC 2517622. PMID 18715117.
  4. ^ Joseph, Leo (2017-12-12). "It's beloved, but Australia's magpie is an international bird of mystery | Leo Joseph". the Guardian. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
  5. ^ "pie". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  6. ^ "magpie". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  7. ^ "pica". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Kyukov et al, Synchronic east–west divergence in azure-winged magpies (Cyanopica cyanus) and magpies (Pica pica), Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 42(4): 342-351 (2004)
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ [accessed 2019-12-2]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]