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WEST SLOPE PENGUINS

By Nic.Korte

“I thought they were penguins!” Could anyone really say that in Western Colorado? One of our nephews was visiting with his new girlfriend who had never been in the Rocky Mountains. Waking up in a campground near Ouray, Becca looked from their tent, and saw a couple of large black and white birds strutting about. The color scheme...of black-billed magpies...reminded her of penguins.

(photo by Jackson Trappett)

Magpies have an uneven reputation. With their striking black, white and iridescent green colors and long tail, they are beautiful. Unfortunately, some of that beauty is offset by their querulous nature and some nasty habits. The latter refers mostly to their penchant for dining on eggs and nestlings of other birds. One friend has referred to a tree in his yard as a magpie feeder because it usually has a robin’s nest which is, in turn, usually raided by magpies.

Magpies, as with crows and ravens are in the family called corvidae or corvids for short. The corvidae are among the most intelligent of birds, and are known to make simple tools and learn commands and tricks (http://fwp.mt.gov/news/specialFeatures/outdoorsExtra/archive/011411.htmlhttp://fwp.mt.gov/news/specialFeatures/outdoorsExtra/archive/011411.html).

This is also why birds from this family can be so maddening. 

Just this week I had some crows eating nuts from my walnut tree. They permitted a closer approach than any other bird probably because they were intelligent enough to know I wasn't a threat. But, try carrying something that looks like it might be a weapon and they are gone…fast! Their intelligence (http://crows.net/project.html) has resulted in many specific research initiatives to examine how birds think.

Becca's misidentification says something about bird distribution. Climate and geography separate species. Magpies don’t migrate so they haven’t been able to cross the plains or the mountains. Besides, to judge by winter roadsides, there is enough carrion to satisfy a lot of magpies every winter. That’s why Becca had never seen one in Illinois, and why first-time visitors are often enthralled. If you doubt that a magpie is exotic to some, how about this? Some years ago I visited the City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri. They had a separate cage and prominent viewing area... for magpies! This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Black-billed Magpie photo by Jackson Trappett. Send questions/comments to nkorte1@hotmail.com. To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, send an email to audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!] YOU ARE INVITED TO (1) FAMILY DAY OF OUR ANNUAL BIRD BANDING PROGRAM-8 UNTIL NOON OCTOBER 12, CONNECTED LAKES S.P., KINGFISHER PARKING AREA, AND (2) OUR NEXT MEMBERSHIP MEETING, OCTOBER 21, 7 PM, 1ST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (27 1/2 ROAD AND CORTLAND). SEE SOME GREAT PHOTOGRAPHS AND LEARN ABOUT TROPICAL BIRDS. 

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