This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The Magpie (Pica caudata or rustica) belongs to the Conirostral or "conical-beaked" section of the perching birds, and is included in the family of the true crows (Corvinae). It averages about 18 in. in length, weighing from 8 to 10 oz. The tail is elongated and thus distinguished from the ordinary crows. The beak, wings, and tail are black; the wings especially, and the tail also, being variegated with white, and with shades of blue, purple, and green. The magpies, like the jays, are semi-gregarious in all seasons but the breeding, which occurs in the spring, the pair of magpies building an oval nest in a thicket of high bushes or trees, and completely covered in by thorny twigs effectually protecting and concealing it, the entrance being on one side and the inside lined with mud, whilst the bottom is covered with a layer of soft grass and plant materials for safely containing the eggs and forming a comfortable home. The eggs are from five to seven in number, and are of a pale greenish colour, closely spotted with dark brown or black. The magpie inhabits woods and thickets, but is more disposed to scour the country than the jay, and feeds upon Crustacea, Mollusca, and insects, eggs and feeble young of other birds, and carrion.
In rural districts the magpie is still regarded by some persons with a superstitious fear, and its talking habits, and thieving propensities under domestication render it disfavoured by many individuals. My father was an adept at domesticating jays, magpies, and jackdaws, teaching them to repeat words and even short sentences, a well-known trait of the magpie in the time of Plutarch, who, in classical times, gives an account of a talking magpie, which belonged to a barber in Rome.