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Did I really just see that?

posted by matthew pendleton at
on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 

I would like my first post to be an old story of something unusual I saw years ago. It might have been the winter of 1996 but it was around that time that Utah was experiencing a cold one, very much like the winter we are now having. It was a bitter and snowy winter and a lot of the mountain birds were escaping into the valley. I had feeders set up in the backyard. Our home was located just below the benches in Sandy. It was the best backyard birding I have ever had.

The more severe the weather got the more species and large flocks would inundate the backyard. Amongst the fun visitors were groups of Steller’s Jays, occasional Red Crossbills, flocks of Rosy-Finches, and Cassin’s Finches. The thistle feeder was producing hoards of American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. We even had a White-throated Sparrow visit for a couple of weeks. I got my daily birding fix just by looking out the window. It was on one of these miserable days when I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the feeders that I saw something I doubt I will ever see again.

It started when all the Pine Siskens and Goldfinches bolted off of the thistle feeder. I looked around anxiously expecting to see an accipiter or maybe a Merlin but it was just a Magpie messing with the Goldfinches. I kept watching the Magpie as it seemed to have singled out one of the Goldfinches. This Magpie wasn’t messing around, it was on the tail of this little bird and gaining ground. As the small finch headed down the dry creek in our backyard the distance between the two birds shrunk as the Magpie hawked the little guy right out of the air. The Magpies talons resembled that of a hawk as it carried its lifeless prey into the trees.

I will never look at a Magpie again in the same way. They are very intelligent and adaptable birds that will take advantage of a situation when food is scarce. Some of you will take this story and dislike Magpies more than you did before. Others, like me, will appreciate and admire them even more. Love or hate them the Black-billed Magpie is an interesting bird.

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7 Comments:
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Magpies are truly ruthless birds!

February 7, 2013 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Shahar Boyayan said...

Magpies are really interesting. The first time I saw one i was really impressed with the black and white colors too.

February 7, 2013 at 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watching me try and keep the Magpies off my feeders is like watching Wile E Coyote try and outsmart the Roadrunner. I'll give you two guesses which one I am and the first guess doesn't count.

February 7, 2013 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger Andrew Durso said...

That is a really cool observation. I'm not surprised, I bet it's pretty a hungry existence for a Magpie that time of year.

February 7, 2013 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Ryan O'Donnell said...

Cool story!

February 7, 2013 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger arianenewell said...

a great story---and jives with the behaviors I've seen. This bird adapts well. thanks so much

February 7, 2013 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Oliver Hansen said...

Nice story. For some reason we don't have any Magpies in Grantsville. 5 or 10 miles east or south and you find them. Living in Provo magpies were a staple bird at my apartment complex. I'm a fan.

February 7, 2013 at 2:48 PM  

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