Magpies? Really?

A huge may tree adorns the west boundary of our front yard. A robin has been perched in the top of it throughout this past winter. Our robin. He (she?) was there last winter. I’m frequently greeted by her chirping when I go out to retrieve the morning paper. Hi Mrs. Robin! Good morning to you too! (Of course I took a photo of her)

November 13, 2022 – 7:58 AM

Every summer we witness a few robin fledglings, either by watching them fledge in a backyard nest or spotting little ones chirping and hopping behind their parents. We always have a nest somewhere. I love to study them and blog about them. I must have written at least 24 robin blogs. One year, about 5 summers ago (?) we had a nest in our back yard, the eggs had hatched, the parents were busy busy feeding the noisy little babies. Then one morning, the nest was empty. What? After this discovery I recalled how I had just run three magpies off our deck. YOU! YOU DID THIS! I just figured the magpies had ganged up on the robins (those bullies!) and snatched the little ones.

Imagine my alarm when, three or four weeks ago, I saw a magpie sail past our dining room window with a large sprig in its beak. Uh-oh! I lost sight of it and looked to see where it landed with that sprig. Huh. No clue.

Well of course that magpie was building a nest. And unbeknownst to me, I was capturing photos of it the whole time. My idea of interacting with winter is to hunker in the house and occasionally open the front door to take photos of the latest accumulation of snow. I typically step out on the front stoop, point my i-Phone westward, and capture the view with our front may tree. Well, guess what? Want to see the slide show of a magpie nest being built? It starts on February 20. Nothing going on here, right?

Feb 20, 2023

Then, February 28. Cold, but innocent. Nothing happening here? … perhaps

Then on March 3, huh, a definite thickening of those lower branches hanging down. Gravid. Like the thickening of a womb in preparation for pregnancy.

Two days later – March 5 – definite thickening in those lower branches just above the line of spruce trees

March 10! I had actually used this photo in my Kauai blog, joking that the huge icicle was no spider web, or some such thing, oblivious to the expanding construction project in our May tree.

March 10 – This would have been the moment to intervene. Had I recognized the situation – magpies building a nest right in our front yard. In our ‘Robin tree!’ But no. They kept building, I was capturing it on camera, and we were oblivious.

I guess the epiphany came on March 11. There they were! Both of them hard at work on that nest. From what I’ve since read about magpies, the male typically delivers the construction material to the female who builds the nest. You can see the female’s tail in this photo, sicking up out of the nest parallel to the male.

Magpies are building a nest in our front may tree! I just couldn’t grasp the reality of it. I’ve never seen a magpie nest as far as I know. I thought they nested near open fields. Not near humans!

I started doing some research. Here’s a link: These black-billed magpies are native to Idaho and the western half of North America. I guess one could argue that they were here before humans and think about how a family of magpies must feel about a big house or a human neighborhood going up next to them! I already knew they don’t migrate in the winter. How does the saying go … “they’re scrappy- when the going gets cold they don’t get going.” They tough out the winter, which tells you how smart and industrious they are.

Magpies are part of the Corvidae family, along with the crows, ravens and blue jays. Indeed, they are highly intelligent, one of the smartest animals in the animal kingdom. Magpies are so noisy because they have communication abilities similar to basic human language, including telling if another magpie is lying!

I wanted to capture closer photos and videos of their industrious nest building, but I was confined to taking them through our dining room window. No matter how busy they were building inside the nest, as soon as I even turned the front door knob to step outside they flew away. So every photo and video you see was taken from inside the house.

Took this video on March 12. Through our dining room window, of course. Turn your sound up so you can hear the proud male announcing his delivery to the female!

Here’s a photo I took a little later on March 12. Look how big that nest is already. Maybe they’re about finished with it.

March 13 – huh, they seem to be adding a canopy or something…

By March 15 it’s clear they are building a two-story condo

March 17 – you work downstairs and I’ll work upstairs!

March 17 – Really shaping up! See the front entrance? There’s a hole there between the two stories.

March 21. Welcome first day of spring! No wonder they build a dome over the nest

Fire up the furnace!

On March 22 I took this video. It’s a little long, 48 seconds, but it’s quite entertaining. One of the magpies drops an 18-inch twig and then flies down, attempts to retrieve it, but maybe decides otherwise (?) Smart move. The other magpie flies in to assist.

They are so industrious and persistent!

Saturday, March 25. Do you suppose you would notice this nest if you were to walk down our street?

It honestly looks like a giant womb. Which, I suppose it is.

Check out this link to learn more about magpie nesting. The nesting season is April to July. Egg-laying typically starts in late March or April. Magpies may start building their nests as early as December. It obviously takes several weeks to build them. But they usually finish the nest in March.

I took this photo this morning.

The magpies have been adding finishing touches, likely lining the inside now with moss, animal fur, feathers and other soft materials. When will they lay their eggs?

At some point that may tree will leaf out obstructing the clear view of the comings and goings of this magpie family. May trees typically bloom and leaf out in the first week of May. But this year?? The way ‘spring’ is going, I’m thinking … June?

Watching these magpies is going to be interesting. Especially with all the other activity going on around here. Just last Thursday evening David came in from the back patio, “Hey check out the owl in our back spruce tree.” I did. Except when I went out there the “Whoo-whoo-whoo-ing’ was coming from across the street. So I went out the front door – captured this video. (Turn up your sound!)

Yeah, two great horned owls calling to each other. As I took the video the one roosting in our back spruce tree flew overhead and landed in a spruce tree near the other one.

And since then I’ve been watching carefully and wondering … what does an owl’s nest look like?

Yes, methinks things are going to get interesting around here with those magpies.

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