Pica (not Pika)

For the Pokemon fans out there, sorry to disappoint, but this isn’t a Pikachu fact page!

Rather the scientific name for the Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) which is the Latin word for ‘Magpie’. When Carl Linnaeus first described this species in 1758, he named it Corvus pica.

They are still part of the corvid (crow) family, but since then have been moved to their own genus for genetic reasons.

Another common name: Common magpie

Eurasian magpies are a common sight across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (full distribution shown on map below), where they can be found all year round in a range of habitats, including lowland farmland and upland moors.

These magpies are mostly glossy black, with a glossy green and violet sheen, however, their bellies and scapulars (shoulder feathers) are pure white.

Source: RSPB (Magpie page)

P. pica are dove-sized birds, with a wingspan of 52-60 cm, and an average weight of 200-250 g.

These magpies can be described as being omnivorous, with these foods including insects, amphibians, mice, fruits, carrion, and seeds. Here, they will search for food on the ground, where they will display advanced ways of foraging, like turning over stones to find insects.

Eurasian magpies breed between April and June, where they usually raise just one brood (unless the first in unsuccessful), containing five or six eggs. The female would incubate these eggs whilst the male would supply food, and guard and defend the nest, which would be located in tall trees. After hatching, the chicks would stay in the nest for around 30 days, where they are fed by both parents. After this 30 days, the young magpies would start exploring outside the nest, but stay close by. It isn’t until a further two weeks after young would start looking for their own food by themselves.

P. pica is shown to be one of the most intelligent animals in the word. Along with the Western Jackjaw (Corvus monedula), the magpie’s nidopallium (region of the avian brain, which coordinates cognition) is approximately the same size as those in chimpanzees and humans, and significantly larger than the gibbons. They are shown to be able to use tools, hide and store food across seasons, and predict the behaviour of conspecifics. Eurasian magpies are also one of the very few species that can recognise themselves in a mirror.

In European folklore, magpies are associated with a number of superstitions, making its reputation an omen of ill fortune. This may have derived from its tendency to ‘steal’ shiny objects, or its aggressive behaviour towards songbirds. The myth that magpies like and steal shiny objects has, however, now been proven as a myth, with researchers finding that these birds have no interest in jewellery or aluminium foil. Chances are magpies may have carried these small items away instead of nuts.

However, in Asia Eurasian magpies are associated more with hospitality and good fortune. It’s name in Chinese is also said to translate to “bird of joy”.