Nesting time for Black-billed Magpies

Black-billed Magpie lifting off from a bush with a twigBlack-billed Magpie lifting off from a bush with a twig – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I dipped yesterday on the Snow Geese, they weren’t where they had been reported but I did see my first of the year Sandhill Cranes and Swallows although they were too far away to get high quality images.

But I did have some fun with Black-billed Magpies that are busy building their nest. Typically they take 40 to 50 days to build or renovate their old nests and they are very active during this time.

Black-billed Magpie flying in with nesting materialBlack-billed Magpie flying in with nesting material – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 350mm, natural light

I use a mobile blind when photographing these Black-billed Magpies so as to not disturb their normal activity which is especially critical during nesting season or when the birds have chicks.

There was a sharp, cold wind blowing from the north yesterday and before I was finished photographing these Black-billed Magpies my hands had gone numb.

I had a great time with these birds but they are a challenge to photograph because of the high contrast between the blacks and whites and because these magpies fly fast. A challenge; yes, but I enjoy it!


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. I just love the Magpies!! I have never saw one in real life but love them in your photos!!

  2. Great job getting the whole bird in the frame-it is not easy with those long tails!

  3. Mia, I love magpies! You did wonderful with the lighting and capture the birds in flight!

  4. Just amazing, Mia. You capture so many colors and the iridescence without washing out the white. All while they’re flying! Kudos.

  5. Saw some in Montana when I visited family years ago. Thought they were pretty cool. The thorny twig seems an odd choice for a nest, but the size goes with what Larry said and the thorns may help hold it together. Great shots Mia!

    • Sally,

      Black-billed Magpies line the inside of the nest with mud or Bison manure mixed with fine, soft grasses so the chicks are protected from the rough twigs. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Merrill Ann Gonzales

    The whole corvid family is so very interesting… I may never get to see a magpie so I am most grateful for such great photos. Next best thing to being there. Many thanks.

  7. Very intriguing, they are brilliant. You caught it with a twig to build it’s nest.

  8. ohh beautifull
    to get the reflections on magpie feathers, it a kind of shot i m searching if i have the oportunity, not so easy to do
    bravo mia, you did it very well

  9. Such beautiful birds, and smart buggers too.

    Wonderful shots Mia.

  10. I love that first shot!!! Great job, as always, Mia!

  11. Gorgeous shots of these amazing Corvid relatives Mia. Their nests are huge structures! I get to see Yellow-billed Magpies locally but I did spot some Black-billed when I visited Klamath Basin NWR last week. I will have to go up again just to find out where they nest up there. Love that you captured their iridescence in that first photo!

    • Thanks Larry, they are amazing corvids. I’ve never seen the Yellow-billed Magpie but I think they are beautiful too from the images I have seen. This nest is really huge but also well camouflaged in the bush that it is in.

  12. I can’t believe how beautiful their feathers are. That one with the twig is impressive.

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