Magpie behaviour

Hi, I’m looking for other people’s experiences with a particularly gruesome magpie episode. Background is; we live on a housing estate with a back garden of about 10m x 15m. Lovely mature elderflower, lilacs & hawthorn at the bottom of the garden. Remainder of garden is lawned & plenty of wildlife friendly planting. Having been interested & watching birds for as long as I can remember, I am very clued up on the populations and varieties in my garden. We’ve had years of successful blackbird families, robins, great tits, bluetits, goldfinches, wrens, dunlocks, collard doves, warblers, sparrows, starlings etc & occasionally rarer visitors, particularly over winter. It’s been an absolute joy getting to know them over the years and ensuring the garden is up to scratch for them!

Unfortunately all of this lovely activity has been brought to an abrupt halt…..

So, last year we had a large gang of magpies, absolutely expect to see them, & other than a noisy nuisance the gang had little impact on anything & coexisted with the other birdie residents peacefully.

This year, as the song birds began nest building, I noted that the gang of magpies had depleted to just 1 pair. So expected that things would be relatively peaceful.

Skip to the beginning of May & I was finding, on an almost daily basis dead birds (mainly juvenile starlings & the occasional sparrow) on my lawn, decapitated. At first I put this down to a local cat with exceptional hunting skills, having ruled out the sparrow hawk who actually only visits very occasionally. But this gruesome & inconvenient event has continued almost every day, to the point that since the great tits fledged out of our bird box about 3 weeks ago, we rarely see or hear another bird at all, other than the magpie pair. We no longer have the once daily song of the blackbird or robins, no circus acts from the sparrows & it’s really depressing & my once overly happy relationship with the garden has started to suffer!

Then I witnessed the unsuspected killer. The one magpie is huge. Ive been watching it sharpen its beak on any suitable surface each morning, then the killing starts. It has taken un-fledged birds from inside nests (I know that is common), fledglings that are passing by with their parents, adult sparrows, blackbirds & the final sad straw today; a robin. It then decapitates its catch leaves the carcass on the lawn/flowerbed/on a tree branch (charming eye level surprise that was!), gets the insides everywhere & eats the head. It’s not that it’s even feeding young.

From a personal nuisance point of view; it’s not helpful as I can’t let my poor dog into he garden without doing a dead bird clear up first! But the main issue is, it’s frightened all of the old visitors off and we are getting none of the visitors that were up into a couple of weeks back, so plentiful!

We’ve gone from a bird haven to 2 magpies only. I’ve never seen this behaviour so prolific in one magpie before. It’s really sad and the garden has just lost its spirit with the birds having been driven away. I know it’s not all about my feelings and nature is nature; surprising and often cruel.  I absolutely understand and acknowledge that magpie behaviour can be aggressive in the terms of otheir birds, and I’m not looking for an argument on this, I know they have to do what they do to survive BUT this particular magpie is killing every bird that dare come into the garden just to feast on the heads. Has anyone any experience with such a prolific magpie killer?! Many thanks in advance, any thoughts are much appreciated Slight smile

  • Sorry to hear and I have has magpies destroy a nest of blackbird chicks and also destroy a nest of eggs.

    Last year I protected nests with metal grilles which had openings big enough for the song birds but excluded the magpies.

    I have seen a magpie, a very nasty one, attack another magpie by standing over it and beating it with its beak. though I hate magpies, I went to scare it away, picked up the injured one and kept it in a box with food for 2 days before releasing it.

    As for the nasty magpie, one weekend my dad was staying with me and he said that he "dealt with it" and it was gone. He would  not tell me how he got rid of it.

    Can't suggest anything, sorry, but magpies are areal nuisance and danger.

  • Yes, I feel bad for not liking this particular bird, they all have their place. But the impact it has had has been quite sad. We’re trying to spend as much as possible in the garden to deter it and when we do so the “proper” birdie residents are comfortably returning to feed & bathe etc. Just hope it moves on!

    Thank you for sharing your experience, I hope things are calmer for you!

  • Not necessarily what you want to hear but you could stop feeding your garden birds. If they are not coming out into the open to regular places maybe the Magpies will give up and move on. Once the Magpies have gone then think about reintroducing feeding.  

  • "Ive been watching it sharpen its beak on any suitable surface"

    Did you?

  • Hi, thank you, I emptied and cleaned my feeders over the weekend so will monitor the visitors & magpies over the next few days.

  • It rubs the edges of its beak rapidly on the edge of the stone wall from our patio and on a metal frame. I see this behaviour in the one bird a lot.

  • I'd suggest that would be the bird removing sticky stuff from its beak. Thrushes clean their beaks similarly. As do finches.

  • Nature can be, and is often harsh.

    I have seen magpies attack small birds, this can be  for food, they are carrion birds, or it can be to protect their young from predation.

    Have a look at the text on a thread I shared four years ago; Menacing Magpie for hire!. I still see magpies in the garden attacking cats, particularly during breeding season.

    Unfortunately due to YouTubes T&Cs I had to remove the vids posted at the time. However the text describes the events, and the fact a magpie attacks a cat must tell a story on magpie behaviour.

     Menacing Magpie for hire! 

    I hope that helps.

  • I have literally just logged in to the forum for the first time in a while to post about a similar issue! For a few years now i've noticed that Spring and Summer become dominated by local magpies in our garden that are hyper-aggressive. I've witnessed them go after collared doves, pigeons, wood pigeons, blackbirds, starlings and even small species like sparrows. Often i think i'm witnessing a sparrowhawk make a predatory dive at the bird, only then to realise it's a magpie. This behaviour seems to calm down through autumn and on the long march into winter. I've been quite shocked by the level of aggression to nearly every other bird and i've not seen it this bad before. Then a couple of weeks ago i noticed what i though was a sick or injured wood pigeon in the garden. It was alive, but hardly moving. It seemed to have a limp, and wouldn't fly, with some of its wing feathers looking wonky. It was there most of the day, then seemed to disappear. The next day i witnessed it fly so was relieved, but it still wasn't moving quite right. Fast forward a week or two and that woodpigeon seemed to be doing well and back to normal. And then this morning i caught two large magpies viscously attacking it, knocked it out of a tree where it fell to the floor stunned. I managed to scare the magpies off. The woodpigeon was stunned for a couple of hours but has just started moving around, and flew up (with apparent difficulty) onto a fence where it has been sat for a long time, occasionally stretching one wing out. It has loose feathers sticking out where the magpies have pecked it. 

    I haven't found any decapitated birds (yet). Interestingly, my magpies don't appear to predate the birds (which i'd understand more), they just attack them. I tend to just open the back door when they turn up, as despite them being the bullies of the garden, interestingly they are the first bird to scarper - i only need to open the door and the noise of that alone causes them to do one - allowing the other birds to remain in peace. Not meaning to demonise and often demonised bird, but i've been quite shocked at how aggressive they have become year on year.