Black-billed Magpie: Large, noisy jay, mostly black, with very long tail and dark, stout bill. Wings and tail are iridescent blue and green-black. White belly and sides. Eats insects, larvae, carrion. Direct flight on shallow, steady wing beats. Often glides between perches or from perch to ground.
Range and Habitat
Black-billed Magpie: Resident from southern Alaska to western and central Canada south to northern California and west through the Great Plains. In winter months, it may travel as far east as Ontario and Minnesota. Its preferred habitats include open woodlands, savannas, brush-covered country, and stream sides.
Crows and Jays (Corvidae)
The crows, magpies and jays are one of the one hundred eighteen families of birds in the order PASSERIFORMES (pronounced pas-ser-i-FOR-meez); a large taxonomic order that includes larks, titmice, and wrens.
The bird family that includes jays and crows, the Corvidae (pronounced COR-vi-dee), includes one hundred and twenty-six species in twenty-four genera found on all continents except for Antarctica.
There are forty species of Corvidae (often commonly called "Corvids") in ten genera that occur in North America (including the Hawaiian Crow, a species that has recently become extinct in the wild). Crows and ravens, raucous jays, long-tailed magpies and the Clark's Nutcracker of the high mountains are all members of this bird family.
Members of the Corvidae are renowned for their intelligence and bold behavior. Among the smartest of birds, Common Ravens can be taught complicated tricks while the jays and nutcrackers have an amazing capacity to recall where they have cached food.
Generally medium-to-largish sized birds, Corvids such as the crows and Clark's Nutcracker have short, square tails while the tails of jays and magpies are long and graceful. All Corvids have stout, strong bills that work well for their omnivorous diet and strong legs and feet for a lifestyle both arboreal and terrestrial in nature.
Corvids are generally somber colored birds; the adult crows and ravens are all black while shades of gray, blue, brown, and black are the norm for other species. The exception is the Green Jay; a beautiful green and yellow bird with blue and black markings on the face.
Corvid species occupy every major habitat in North America from sun baked deserts to alpine meadows and Pacific coastal rain forests. While the Common Raven and American Crow can be found in these and other habitats, the Clark's Nutcracker and Pinyon Jay are restricted to western coniferous forests. The Steller's Jay occurs in the same evergreen forests but is replaced by different jay species in other forest types.
Some of North America's hardiest bird species, only Blue Jays and American Crows fly south to escape the winter and even these are short distance migrations limited to birds that breed in regions with very harsh winters.
Most Corvids are social, curious birds that forage in pairs or family groups that frequently communicate with harsh, rasping calls. Foraging takes place in the trees and on the ground and includes a variety of food items ranging from nuts to small animals and carrion.
Other than being susceptible to West Nile Virus, most Corvid species are fairly common, adaptable birds. Nevertheless, the Pinyon and Florida Scrub Jays are threatened by habitat loss and the Island Scrub Jay is of concern because the entire population is restricted to Santa Cruz Island off the California coast.
The Clark's Nutcracker is so adapted to feeding on pine seeds that it has evolved a pouch under its tongue to store extra seeds while foraging. It caches the extra seeds at a variety of locations (many of which it amazingly remembers) and shares this knowledge with its mate. The "forgotten" seeds also help the propagation of more pine trees.