Black-Billed Magpie

Pica hudsonia
Range Map

Sometimes called the American Magpie, these birds build large domed structures to nest in. Nests are usually maintained by communities of these birds. They range from east of the Sierra-Nevada and Cascade Mountains of northern California, east through Nevada, Utah, Colorada and north through Nebraska and the Dakotas, then north over much of the Canadian prairie provinces and into British Columbia and even to southern Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.

Often persecuted and unloved by Western man, these birds can be quite wary. The magpie’s impact on other songbirds from nest robbing has not proven unfavorable to the success of these so-called victims.

When bison roamed the American plains, the magpies travelled with them. They exploited the food source when native Americans hunted the great beasts. When the bison were killed off during the 1870s, the magpies switched their association to the cattle that replaced them.

Once these birds were considered a subspecies of magpies found across Europe and Asia. Today, researchers separate them as their own species, and consider them monotypic (i.e. no subspecies).

My meetings with these birds have occurred in western Montana, and across the Great Basin from the eastern Sierra-Nevada mountains to the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

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