Curious Aspects of the Oriental Magpie

A peculiar bird, with striking plumage and a characteristic song. Learn more about this species in the following lines.
Curious Aspects of the Oriental Magpie

Last update: 03 August, 2023

The Oriental magpie belongs to the Corvidae family. It lives from northern Burma to Korea, through Indochina, eastern China, southeastern Russia, and Taiwan.

This bird, which lives in Eurasia, is one of the most intelligent birds in existence compared to many other species. Even its striated brain is quite similar to that of orangutans, chimpanzees and humans.

If we compare the Oriental magpie with the common magpie, both are similar in size, but the former is more robust, as its wings are longer and its tail shorter. Furthermore, unlike the common magpie, whose colors vary between black and white (predominant) and metallic blue and green (secondary), the Oriental magpie has shades between purplish blue and a range of greens.

Taxonomy of the Oriental Magpie

At one time, this magpie was considered a subspecies of the common magpie, but thanks to research that studied 813 mitochondrial DNA sequences of magpies in general, a discovery was made. The Oriental magpie stopped reproducing as they had been doing; they stopped interbreeding (which is known as reproductive isolation).

It’s a fact that the Oriental magpie opted for reproductive isolation before the Pica nuttalli, approximately 4.5 to 5 million years ago. So, there were two options, either the Oriental magpie was considered a separate species or the whole genus was encompassed in a single species; they chose the former.

Habitat of the Oriental magpie

Unlike the common magpie, which can be present in almost any habitat and even prefers those close to humans (even roads and garbage dumps), the Oriental magpie inhabits open or semi-open places, such as farms, groves and gardens. There, they usually build their nests with sticks and twigs in tall trees or hedges.

Characteristics of the Oriental Magpie

The Pica serica has a very characteristic white plumage, in which white predominates (especially on the wings, belly and back). In good light, green and blue tones can be seen reflected on its wings.

Its sound is unmistakable, a chattering that is familiar in many areas where it lives.

An Oriental magpie.
Pica serica.

Some curious facts about the magpie are the following:

  • The Oriental magpie is also known by several names, Pica serica is the most common of all; it’s also known as pica pica jankowskii, pica pica japonica and pica pica serica.
  • In Peru, a gossipy person is called a magpie.
  • The magpie is associated with bad luck, according to British belief. This is because when Jesus Christ was dying on the cross, a myth says that this animal was the only one that didn’t come to comfort him, so it was cursed for eternity.
  • In Scotland, it’s believed that when a magpie stands at a window it’s because someone in the house, or someone close to them, is going to die soon.
  • In China, magpies are a symbol of happiness
  • In the Middle Ages, like other animals such as black cats, crows, and ravens, magpies were associated with witchcraft.
  • In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, belonging to Greco-Latin mythology, the daughters of King Piero of Macedonia were transformed into magpies when they lost a musical duel in which they didn’t defeat the muses.

Did you know these facts about magpies and Oriental magpies? They’re exceptionally intelligent animals, even though throughout history they have been branded as unlucky. What has been the most interesting thing you’ve learned about them today?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Lee, Sang-im; Parr, Cynthia S.; Hwang, Youna; Mindell, David P.; Choe, J.C. (2003). «Phylogeny of magpies (genus Pica) inferred from mtDNA data». Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 29 (2): 250-257. PMID 13678680doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00096-4.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.