Nature Notes – Colourful Corvids (Part Two)

In February we looked out for four, mainly black, members of the crow family. The other two species that can be seen locally are more colourful birds.


Collectors of shiny things

All crows and some other bird families, e.g. bowerbirds in Australia, have the habit of collecting shiny objects to decorate their nests. Magpies are adept at this hence, ‘The Thieving Magpie.’ One of their other habits is less appealing. Magpies are excellent and prolific nest finders, especially when feeding their own young. Once a nest has been located the magpie will return repeatedly until all the eggs or chicks have been removed and eaten. If you have ever watched a blackbird building its well-hidden nest in garden shrubbery, only to have it systematically destroyed by a magpie, you may find it difficult to admire this beautiful bird. 

Football colours plus!

At first appearance magpies are black and white (as all Newcastle United fans will confirm) with long tails and destructive habits. In good light, as the photograph shows, refracted light can turn the black feathers of magpies into dazzling blues and greens. These colours are described as structural caused by the structure of the feather not by pigments in the feather. The other interesting aspect of the photograph is the adaptability of this species; a large bird hanging from a feeder designed for finches and tits. 

Finally, magpies share with long-tailed tits the peculiarity of building a nest that is ill suited to its long tail. A magpie nest is usual covered with a dome of sticks to reduce the risk of predation and is entered from the side. As a consequence the female incubates its clutch with its long tail bent around inside the ball structure.


Not common locally

Although jays are not common locally, they are relatively easy to find in East Leicestershire and Charnwood. Their preferred habitat is mature oak woodland. Jays gorge on nuts in the autumn, especially