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.
Birds are protected by law. These laws are many and complex and it is essential that those people carrying out bird management, whether pest professional or layman, understand the legal implications of what they do. If you are ever in any doubt as to the legality of any action you are about to undertake GET EXPERT ADVICE FIRST. If you don't, you could bring yourself or your organization into disrepute and face prosecution.
It is essential that anyone intending to take action against birds under any general licence first obtains a copy and familiarises themselves with the conditions. Offences committed under this legislation attract a maximum fine of £5000 or six months custodial sentence.
The Species list detailing which birds the general licence applies to may vary in N Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Check before taking action
Details within the licence may change at any time. It is recommended that reference is always made to the licence details current at the time of action.
The magpie is currently listed on public health and safety general licences, so can be culled in accordance with the licence requirements. Management measures can include trapping, shooting (excluding weapons with a muzzle diameter greater than 1.25 inches) and nest destruction. The use of a Larsen Trap is also allowed, under strict understanding that trapped birds are supplied with adequate water, food, shelter and a suitable perch. The trap must be visited at least every 24 hours and all trapped animals or birds must be removed. When the trap is not in use it must be rendered incapable of trapping and the decoy bird removed. Culling can only be resorted to if specific conditions are met, and only where legal, non-lethal methods of control are ineffective or impractical. General licences are only issued for the following specific reasons:
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 have 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 shoulder 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 magpies.
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
They have a characteristic large, domed nest
The exclusion of birds from areas (ie proofing) is allowed unless the bird is a protected bird with young, a nest or partially built nest, and when the proofing would prevent the birds gaining access to their nesting site. However, a person shall be guilty of an offence liable to special penalty if they "set in position...an article which is of such a nature and is so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild bird coming into contact therewith." In addition, "any electrical device for killing, stunning or frightening" and "bird lime or substance of a like nature to bird lime" are specifically prohibited. Crows can be quite fearless once they overcome any initial wariness, but the following could be effective:
Magpies are notoriously difficult to deter, as is any wild bird, but the following could be effective: