Magpies are magnificent birds to see. Their plumage is stunning, particularly when the light catches the iridescence of their tail.
And yet, seeing a magpie on your lawn isn’t an enjoyable experience, especially if you have a family of songbirds nesting nearby.
Are magpies misunderstood and have a bad reputation for a genuine reason; do magpies eat other birds?
The magpie is a vociferous predator of the eggs and chicks of British songbirds in the breeding season.
They aren’t shy and retiring birds, they are noisy and conspicuous in their approach. Their persistent cry occasionally acts as an early warning sign to adult songbirds.
Do Magpies Cause Decline in Songbird Populations
It is a wildly held belief that magpie attacks have a detrimental effect on the number of songbirds. Multiple studies have taken place over recent decades; the results disprove the idea.
In 1981, Ecologist Tim Birkead of Sheffield University embarked on a 10-year study of magpies and their behaviour.
He noted population densities of several breeds of songbirds, including blue tits, robins, dunnocks, and blackbirds.
He discovered statistics that from 1966 – 1986 there was a steady year-upon-year incline in the number of magpies, and yet none of the songbirds featured in the study suffered a similar decline.
Surely, with many more magpies, the small bird population should suffer? There was no evidence of this happening.
In fact, in woodland areas, quite the opposite happened, songbird populations flourished where there were most magpies.
Do magpies eat fully grown birds?
There is little that magpies won’t eat. Their diet mainly consists of invertebrates such as beetles and caterpillars; in winter they eat fruits, berries, and grains.
The magpie is always on the lookout for a juicy bird or mammal to supplement their diet.
During breeding season chicks and eggs are rife, and often easy pickings. At other times of the year, the magpie happily feasts upon carrion – the decaying flesh of dead animals.
Small mammals such as field mice and voles feature on the magpie’s menu, as do small birds if they are catchable. The sparrow is around the right size.
Occasionally, magpies are brazen enough to attack larger mammals, such as rabbits.
Live food is usually a small proportion of their overall diet. If food is in abundance, the magpie will hide it away in a hole that they dig with their beak.
They use a stone or leaf to cover it and to remind them where their stash is hidden!
Magpies undoubtedly eat other birds. During the breeding season, they focus on the young nesting birds and eggs while the parent birds are away searching for food.
It is a sad sight waking up to find feathers on your lawn, often the results of a magpie attack.
Sadly, it is the circle of life and, unless you make a concerted effort to deter magpies, it might happen again.