Magpie Mafia

On my last day in Colorado, as Arctic air enveloped the Front Range and snow began to coat our Littleton farm, a flock of black-billed magpies arrived to scour the trees, shrubs and pastures for anything edible.  Members of the crow family, these large, flashy omnivores are noisy and aggressive; while individuals may be vulnerable to hawks and other predators, magpie flocks are carefree and defiant.

Spotting our backyard feeder, several members of the gang alighted beneath it to search the ground for fallen seed.  They were soon joined by fifteen other magpies, nudging each other to get at the handouts.  Though a certain hierarchy was evident, they seemed to tolerate one another's company; after all, such flocks form as both a means of self defense and to increase their success at finding food.  For once, the fox squirrels deferred to avian visitors, circling at a distance to await their opportunity.

Like most birds, magpies are less gregarious during the warmer months and many move into higher terrain to raise their families.  Come fall, they gather in family-based clans, roaming the piedmont and foothills to feast on a wide variety of natural and human-produced foods.  Though despised by some farmers and gardeners, these flamboyant birds consume many destructive insects and rodents; they are both vital members of western ecosystems and conspicuous symbols of their open landscapes.