The magpie is a black and white bird with a very long tail. It is a member of the crow family. When the wings are folded, the magpie has a white breast and a white patch on each side. Magpies live on insects, grubs, berries and carrion, with occasional frogs and snails.
They have also been known to kill small pets such as baby guinea pigs. Magpies supplement their diet in the breeding season by raiding nests of smaller birds and eating the eggs and baby chicks. Their numbers have increased by 112% over the last 30 years and they are now the 13th most commonly seen bird in British gardens.
Whilst most bird protection organisations struggle to explain why songbirds are declining so rapidly in Britain, many enlightened observers believe magpies and carrion crows are a significant part of the problem.
Control is best in the spring using Larsen Traps.
Magpies, like all other species, are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. This makes it illegal to intentionally or, in Scotland, recklessly take, injure or kill a magpie, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents. In Northern Ireland, it is illegal to disturb birds at an active nest.
That said, control may sometimes be necessary. Killing can only be done if specific conditions are met, and only where non-lethal methods of control are ineffective or impractical. General licences are issued, some of which allow the killing of magpies in certain circumstances:
A Larsen trap, a type of cage trap, is designed to catch birds alive and unharmed. It can be baited with food, or with a live decoy magpie, provided all welfare regulations are met. Such traps are legal, so long as the licence conditions are adhered to
Many people wish to control magpies in gardens because they take eggs and chicks of other birds. Since research indicates that magpies do not pose a conservation problem to garden birds, the use of general licence in this context is at best debatable.
It must be remembered that if challenged, anyone killing magpies in their garden may have to prove to a court of law that they had acted lawfully. This may be difficult given the lack of scientific evidence that magpies affect the conservation of garden bird species.
From a distance the magpie is a black and white bird, but on closer inspection its head breast and back are an iridescent green, blue, purple colour. Its shouder patches, underside and flanks are white. The bill and legs are black. The magpie's tail accounts for over half of its body length.
Juvenile magpies have much shorter tails, their white bits are dirtier and their black less glossy
Adult birds measure about 18" in length with a wingspan of 20-24". Birds weigh between 200-250g
Both birds build the large nest, which is constructed from twigs and small branches, lined with mud and vegetation. This can take several weeks. Nests are usually in large trees (or pylons) and often but not always domed to prevent predation by other crows.
The hen lays eggs that are smooth, glossy and pale blue with olive or grey spots
Both parents feed the young after they have hatched.
Magpies are found all over the UK, but are not evident in most of Scotland. In Spring large numbers often gather to resolve territorial conflicts. These gatherings are called Parliaments.
They enjoy a varied diet in their original rural environment such as insects, rodents, carrion, eggs and nestlings, grain, berries and fruit.
They have adapted well to suburban gardens where they also feed on household scraps and bird food
Magpies are notoriously difficult to deter, as is any wild bird, but the following could be effective: