Until the mid-19th century, magpies were very common in Britain and were popular with farmers because they ate harmful insects and rodents.
The history of magpies
From the 1850s until the First World War, heavy persecution by gamekeepers caused magpie numbers to plummet. The species didn’t recover until the late 20th century, when numbers trebled from 1970 to 1990. Since then magpie numbers have remained stable.
The magpie is common from Ireland in the west to Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia, across much of North America and there are small populations in North Africa and western Arabia. In Spain and Portugal a close relative, the azure-winged magpie, is common in olive groves.
Magpies are highly intelligent and very adaptable. They are omnivorous, eating mainly insects, but also will scavenge and store surplus food. Magpies will nest in most places where there are trees and in urban areas they will even use artificial structures, such as pylons.
Deterrents for magpies
Magpies are very difficult to deter. They are a dominant and prominent species, but they do far less damage to the rest of the wildlife in gardens than most people believe.
- Half-full plastic bottles or CDs hung up in trees to scare the predators away. Magpies don’t like the way light reflects from the surface.
- GuardnEyes scarecrow balloon, available from Dazer UK.
- It may be possible to deter them by playing a tape of a crow or rook distress call. These distress calls, however, could deter other birds too, not just magpies. Also, please be considerate of your neighbours when playing tapes.