Friday, 25 July 2014


How well do you know your magpies?  The three photographs below show three different birds; they were taken on three different continents.  Can you identify them?  We can’t say that they are three different species…but they might be!  Even those who identify birds by examining their DNA don’t seem to have reached a conclusion, so what chance for us?  Maybe you can at least suggest where each photograph was taken.

Here is another magpie.  This one’s easy - it’s obviously a Yellow-billed Magpie Pica nuttalli, which occurs only in California and which it seems everyone agrees is a distinct species.  Yellow-billed Magpies have declined in recent years with 50% of the population reportedly killed by West Nile virus between 2004 and 2006.

Not all magpies are black and white birds with long tails!  Below we have Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythrorhyncha from Asia, photographed in China and an Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki or perhaps an Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus, photographed in Portugal.  Whether you choose to call the latter an Iberian or an Azure-winged will depend on which taxonomy you’re inclined towards.  We have blogged here on this subject in the past.

And not all black and white birds with a long tail are magpies!  Below is a Magpie Shrike Urolestes melanoleucus, a fairly common bird in savanna-woodland in eastern and southern Africa.  The photograph was taken in Tanzania.  Presumably the English name was given to the bird by a 19th Century European explorer who saw some similarity to the plumage and shape of Pica pica

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