There’s no denying that magpies have a bad reputation. With their scavenging and predatory nature, few people are happy to find them in their garden. If you have ever heard their noisy squawking or seemingly seen them chase off other birds or cats from your garden, you might be interested to know are magpies territorial and if it’s the same one causing a nuisance in your garden every time.
Once magpies reach breeding maturity, usually at 2 years old, they will settle into a territory with their mate. They build nests in thorny bushes or high in tall trees and defend them, sometimes to the death.
They will see off any species of bird that poses a threat to their boundaries, including other magpies.
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A mischief of Magpies
There are over 600,000 territories of magpies in the UK, they are resident virtually everywhere apart from the highlands of Scotland. At any time there are 25%-60% of the birds not involved in a breeding pair and therefore don’t have any need for a territory of their own.
Magpies that aren’t breeding tend to create large flocks that live in huge 50-acre spaces. Birds join and leave the flock at will, usually when a male and female pair up and seek a territory.
The collective noun for a group of magpies has many names, a flock, a charm, or a mischief are some of my favourites.
Why are there several magpies in 1 territory
We know that they are very territorial, so you would think there should be just 1 or 2 magpies in each territory. Firstly, each territory covers a large area of around 5 hectares, that is 12 acres. Secondly, there is always a magpie that likes the look of another bird’s territory and will attempt to take it over.
This will always be a male magpie from the flock of non-breeding birds.
Once he has targetted a territory, he will move in close until he gets a response from the owner, who won’t take it lightly and cause a drama. This is usually the cause of the familiar “chak-chak-chak” call, it’s a warning noise. The owner magpie will try and chase the other one-off, but it is usually too late, the closest flock will have overheard and close in to watch the drama unfold. Remember back to your school days when a fight started and just one call of “fight” had all the kids congregated round? It’s very much like that and is known as a Ceremonial Gathering.
The owner magpie holds his territory
This is usually the case, and the invading bird is seen off. The flock disperses leaving the breeding couple in peace. But not for long.
The takeover attempt will have given the outsider chance to recce the territory and to figure out the strength of the holding magpie.
If he thinks he has the beating of the bird he will make several further attempts to steal the magpie’s territory.
Sometimes his judgement is off and he will receive a beating from the holding bird. He will probably then settle for a smaller territory somewhere nearby, around the perimeter of the land he truly wanted. Occasionally, he senses the impending trouble and flees, the holding magpie might then attack one of the watching birds, as a show of strength.
If the takeover is successful, it isn’t necessarily that non-breeding bird that moves into the territory, it might be the most powerful, ‘top dog’ within the watching flock.
The noise that magpies make during a takeover effort can be heard from far away, but often it is just that, noise. It is a show of bravado and just ‘handbags’, it rarely turns into more.
Are magpies territorial? Absolutely, but you needn’t worry about them harming your pets, their bark is definitely worse than their bite!