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!



  1. Roy May 23, 2013 at 9:22 am

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

  2. Julie Brown March 6, 2013 at 4:04 am

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

    • Mia McPherson March 6, 2013 at 5:26 am

      Thank you Julie. I agree it is work getting the whole bird in the frame because of their long tails.

  3. Kathie March 5, 2013 at 7:26 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson March 6, 2013 at 5:25 am

      Thanks Kathie, they are such fun to photograph

  4. Tami March 5, 2013 at 2:41 pm

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

  5. Sally Wood March 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    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!

    • Mia McPherson March 5, 2013 at 5:23 pm


      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 March 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    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.

    • Mia McPherson March 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      I’m very happy you get to see Black-billed Magpies through my images Merrill!

  7. Bob Bushell March 5, 2013 at 12:31 pm

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

    • Mia McPherson March 5, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks Bob, their nests are huge and it uses lots of twigs

  8. eric c11 March 5, 2013 at 10:57 am

    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

    • Mia McPherson March 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm

      Eric, I am sure you will accomplish your goal. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Laurence Butler March 5, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Such beautiful birds, and smart buggers too.

    Wonderful shots Mia.

    • Mia McPherson March 5, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      Yeah, they are smart buggers Laurence and you shouldn’t leave anything out near them that they can carry off! Thank you.

  10. Beverly Everson March 5, 2013 at 7:47 am

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

  11. Larry Jordan March 5, 2013 at 7:10 am

    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!

    • Mia McPherson March 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      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. M. Firpi March 5, 2013 at 6:18 am

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

    • Mia McPherson March 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks Maria, in the right light the iridescence shows very well.

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