|Adult in Daejon (South Korea)|
The Korean magpie or Oriental magpie (Pica sericea), known as "kkachi" (까치) in Korean, is a species of magpie found in Korea and China. It is a common symbol of the Korean identity, and has been adopted as the "official bird" of numerous South Korean cities, counties and provinces. Its distribution is not limited to the Korean Peninsula and if considered a valid species its range may extend almost to the Himalayas. Consequently, other vernacular names may be used for this bird, e.g. Asian magpie.
Compared to the European magpie, it differs not in size but is somewhat stockier, with a proportionally shorter tail and longer wings. The back, tail, and particularly the remiges show strong purplish-blue iridescence with few if any green hues. The populations found east of the Tibetan Plateau, which might belong to this species, are larger (the largest Pica magpies). They have a rump plumage that is mostly black, with but a few and often hidden traces of the white band which connects the white shoulder patches in their relatives. The Korean magpie has the same call as the European magpie, albeit much softer.
Systematics and evolution
Recent study of comparing 813 bp mtDNA sequences found out that either all Pica magpies should be one species or that the Korean magpie need to be separated as a distinct species; it has been reproductively isolated for longer even than the yellow-billed magpie (P. nuttalli) of North America. Of particularly interest is also the population called P. p. jankowskii (which is often included in serica); P. p. japonica from southern Japan is usually included in serica today.
It seems that the Korean magpie's evolution as a distinct lineage started considerably earlier than the Gelasian date of c.2 million years ago (Ma) indicated by a molecular clock analysis. The assumed divergence rate – 1.6% point mutations per Ma – is appropriate for a long-lived passerine, but hybridization – which as only mtDNA was used would be hard to detect – and the few specimens analyzed make the molecular clock estimate just an approximation. Meanwhile, the fossil record of North American magpies has a specimen – UCMP 43386, a left tarsometatarsus from Palo Duro Falls (Randall County, Texas) – which is probably from the Early Pleistocene Irvingtonian age, around 2–1 Ma. It shows the distinct features of a black-billed magpie (P. (p.) hudsonia), though it might be from a common ancestor of black- and yellow-billed magpies. This was not used to calibrate the molecular clock analysis, but accounting for the phylogenetic hypothesis it appears more likely that the Korean magpie's ancestors diverged from other Pica in the Early Pliocene already, perhaps 5–4.5 Ma, antedating the uplift of the Sierra Nevada which cut off most gene flow between the two North American populations. Residual gene flow between them (and between the two (or more?) Eurasian magpie lineages) until the onset of the Quaternary glaciation some 2.6–2 Ma may also have skewed the molecular clock results.
Like the other Pica magpies, the Korean magpie is a member of the large radiation of mainly Holarctic corvids, which also includes the typical crows and ravens (Corvus) nutcrackers (Nucifraga) and Old World jays. The long tail might be plesiomorphic for this group, as it is also found in the tropical Asian magpies (Cissa and Urocissa) as well as in most of the very basal corvids, such as the treepies. The unique black-and-white color pattern of the "monochrome" magpies is an autapomorphy. If it's a subspecies or a species, still in discussion.
In Korea, the magpie is celebrated as "a bird of great good fortune, of sturdy spirit and a provider of prosperity and development". Similarly, in China, magpies are seen as an omen of good fortune. This is even reflected in the Chinese word for magpie, simplified Chinese: 喜鹊; traditional Chinese: 喜鵲; pinyin: xǐquè, in which the first character means "happiness". It was the official ‘bird of joy’ for the Manchu dynasty.
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- Winterman, Denise. "Why are magpies so often hated?". BBC News Magazine.
Magpies have a dubious reputation because they are a bit of both. Over the years they have been lumped in with blackbirds
- "春蚕、喜鹊、梅花、百合花有什么象征意义？" [Silkworms, magpie, plum blossom, lily. What symbolic meaning?] (in Chinese).
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