Pica (genus)

Pica is the genus of seven species of birds in the family Corvidae in both the New World and the Old.

Eurasian magpie (P. pica)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Corvidae
Genus: Pica
Brisson, 1760

The genus Pica was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760.[1][2] The name was derived by tautonymy from the specific epithet of the Eurasian magpie Corvus pica introduced by Linnaeus in 1758.[2][3] Pica is the Latin word for the Eurasian magpie.[4]

They have long tails and have predominantly black and white markings. One species ranges widely from Europe through Asia, one occurs in western North America, one is restricted to California, one is restricted to southwestern Saudi Arabia, and one occurs across North Africa; the last two are often considered subspecies of the Eurasian. They are usually considered closely related to the blue and green magpies of Asia, but recent research suggests their closest relatives are instead the Eurasian crows.[5]

Two or three species were generally recognized, the yellow-billed and one or two black-billed ones. Recent research has cast doubt on the taxonomy of the Pica magpies.[6] P. hudsonia and P. nuttalli are each other's closest relatives, but may not be different species. If they are, however, at least the Korean race of P. pica would have to be considered a separate species, too.


Recognized living species include:

ImageScientific nameCommon NameDistribution
Pica picaEurasian magpieEurope and Asia
Pica sericaOriental magpiefrom southeastern Russia and Myanmar to eastern China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and northern Indochina
Pica bottanensisBlack-rumped magpiecentral Bhutan, west-central China
Pica asirensis Asir magpie Asir Region of Saudi Arabia
Pica mauritanicaMaghreb magpieNorth Africa
Pica nuttalliYellow-billed magpieCalifornia
Pica hudsoniaBlack-billed magpiewestern half of North America

Fossil species

A prehistoric species of Pica, Pica mourerae, is known from fossils found in PliocenePleistocene boundary strata on Mallorca.

Mating systems

Ecology and Sexual Selection

Magpie, the species Pica utilizes a few indicators of mate quality to optimize breeding success. This leads to sexual selection pressures for the individuals within the species. Magpies often pair with the same individual through multiple breeding seasons. Change in mates may occur if higher fitness individuals becomes available.[7][8] Males rarely moves between territories. If female mate is lost, males would defend current territory alone until next paring.[9] In contrast females move between territories much more frequent.[10] If females lose their mate, they lose their direct benefits to access of resources. Females do not or are unable to maintain territory if male mate is lost.[11] These females will leave their territory to see new mate in new territory.[11]

One indicator of mate quality is tail size and condition.[8] Larger tail and shapes can have a built in incur of cost to the individual.[8] Sexually selecting for a mate that has the ability to offset the higher cost of a larger tail, indirectly suggest increased fitness of that particular individual.[12][13] This is thought as a possible form of honest signalling to potential mates.[8][13] This applies to both sexes of Pica pica, which carries similar monomorphic plumage. Thus both sexes can determine the quality of the opposite sex via similar attributes of plumage.[14][15] For magpies the long graduated tail is also part of plumage color display. Tail display is thought to be used for inter-sexual competition and intra-sexual display in courting.[7] Quality of male tail correlate with quality of the territory.[8] Shown in study that tail quality has a high correlation with reproductive success. Magpies that maintained their tail from damages achieved earlier paring in the breeding season. Resulting in high as twice as many offspring compared to magpies whom had damaged tails.[8]

For magpies quality of male correlates with quality of territory.[16] Female reproductive investment correlates with foods rich in protein and territory quality provided by the male.[17] With increased availability of resources male magpies tends to build larger nests. Females will use both nest size and external environmental resource availability to select for the ideal mate.[17] Nest size is also a direct benefit to the female. Larger nests is able to support larger clutch size.[18] Thus nest size is used as a sexually selected signal by females, as an honest signal for willingness to parental investment by the male.[18][19] Furthermore, clutch size invested by the females do not differ with variance in food availability. Suggest sexual selection is main factor when it comes to female magpies reproductive strategy.[17]

During reproduction female magpies follow strategy of differential allocation and or reproductive compensation.[17] Not only will females estimate the ideal egg clutch size that pair ideally to male mate quality. Females will adjust laying eggs sooner in the matting season if male mate were deemed higher quality.[17] Females can also vary the size of eggs to evenly optimize reproductive success, with a given mate quality.[19] Females with higher quality males sometimes trade larger clutch size over larger eggs. Assumption is with good male parental care small eggs would be offset during hatching stage of their offsprings.[17] When food is overly abundant, females will invest heavily in clutch size as well as egg size, leaving no possibly of trade offs.[17]

Pica pica species evolved with biparental parental care.[14][15] Quality of mate large determinates breeding and reproductive success in magpies.[10] Analysis of data in this study suggest 19% of variance in breeding success can be correlated to territory quality that breeding pair maintains. However high as 75% of the variance in reproductive success can be correlated to measurable mate quality parameters. The resulting reproductive success can be but not limited to egg size, clutch size, hatch rate, fledgling rate.[10] This is result a combination of parental investment and parental care.[10] Female fitness tends to be the main factor that determines clutch size. The physical size of female is one of the highest correlated factors that determines egg size.[10] Of the females, each individual can choice to invest more resources into a large egg.[19] Male parental investment becomes the dominant factor once eggs enters the incubation period.[10] Male magpies provides for the females by giving almost all her food and nourishment during the incubation period.[14] There is two beneficial to the breeding pair. One, the pairs’ eggs will have lower chance of predation as female magpie does not need to leave the nest to obtain nourishments. Second, this also results in consistent incubations of the egg.[20] The ability of male parental care can also be a direct benefit to the female.[10] Once the eggs has hatched. From the hatchling stage till one year fledgling stage, male magpies continuously proved nourishment to the offsprings.[10] Findings also suggest males also brings more food to hatchlings than female magpies.[14] Males expend more energy than the female in feeding of hatched youngs.[10]


  1. Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Volume 1. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. p. 30.
  2. Mayr, Ernst; Greenway, James C. Jr, eds. (1962). Check-list of birds of the world. Volume 15. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 250.
  3. Linnaeus, C. (1758). Systema Naturæ per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, Volume 1 (in Latin) (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. p. 106.
  4. Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 305. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  5. Ericson, Per G. P.; Jansén, Anna-Lee; Johansson, Ulf S. & Ekman, Jan (2005). Inter-generic relationships of the crows, jays, magpies and allied groups (Aves: Corvidae) based on nucleotide sequence data. Journal of Avian Biology 36: 222-234. PDF fulltext
  6. Lee, Sang-im; Parr, Cynthia S.; Hwang,Youna; Mindell, David P. & Choea, Jae C. (2003). Phylogeny of magpies (genus Pica) inferred from mtDNA data. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 29: 250-257. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00096-4 PDF fulltext
  7. Cramps, S; Perrins, C. M. (1994). The birds of the Western Palearctic, vol 8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  8. Fitzpatrick, Susan; Price, Peter (1997-03-01). "Magpies' tails: damage as an indicator of quality". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 40 (3): 209–212. doi:10.1007/s002650050334. ISSN 0340-5443.
  9. Birkhead, T.R., Eden, S.F., Clarkson, K., Goodburn, S.F. & Pellatt, J. (1986). Social organisation of a population of Magpies Pica pica. Ardea 74: 59-68.
  10. GOODBURN, S. F. (1991-01-01). "Territory quality or bird quality? Factors determining breeding success in the Magpie Pica pica". Ibis. 133 (1): 85–90. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919x.1991.tb04815.x. ISSN 1474-919X.
  11. Birkhead, T. R.; Clarkson, K. (1985-01-01). "Ceremonial Gatherings of the Magpie Pica Pica: Territory Probing and Acquisition". Behaviour. 94 (3): 324–332. doi:10.1163/156853985x00244. ISSN 1568-539X.
  12. Grafen, Alan (1990). "Sexual selection unhandicapped by the fisher process". Journal of Theoretical Biology. 144 (4): 473–516. doi:10.1016/s0022-5193(05)80087-6. PMID 2402152.
  13. JOHNSTONE, RUFUS A. (1995-02-01). "Sexual Selection, Honest Advertisement and the Handicap Principle: Reviewing the Evidence". Biological Reviews. 70 (1): 1–65. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185x.1995.tb01439.x. ISSN 1469-185X. PMID 7718697.
  14. Buitron, Deborah (1988). "Female and Male Specialization in Parental Care and Its Consequences in Black-Billed Magpies". The Condor. 90 (1): 29–39. doi:10.2307/1368429. JSTOR 1368429.
  15. Dunn, Peter O.; Hannon, Susan J. (1989). "Evidence for Obligate Male Parental Care in Black-Billed Magpies". The Auk. 106 (4): 635–644. JSTOR 4087668.
  16. Baeyens, G (1981-01-01). "Functional aspects of serial monogamy: the magpie pair-bond in relation to its territorial system". 69: 125–139. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. De Neve, Liesbeth; Soler, Juan J.; Soler, Manuel; Pérez-Contreras, Tomás; Martín-Vivaldi, Manuel; Martínez, Juan G. (2004-05-01). "Effects of a food supplementation experiment on reproductive investment and a post-mating sexually selected trait in magpiesPica pica". Journal of Avian Biology. 35 (3): 246–251. CiteSeerX doi:10.1111/j.0908-8857.2004.03162.x. ISSN 1600-048X.
  18. Soler, Juan José; Neve, Liesbeth de; Martínez, Juan Gabriel; Soler, Manuel (2001-05-01). "Nest size affects clutch size and the start of incubation in magpies: an experimental study". Behavioral Ecology. 12 (3): 301–307. doi:10.1093/beheco/12.3.301. ISSN 1045-2249.
  19. de Neve, Liesbeth; Soler, Juan José (2002). "Nest-building activity and laying date influence female reproductive investment in magpies: an experimental study". Animal Behaviour. 63 (5): 975–980. doi:10.1006/anbe.2001.1989.
  20. Lyon, Bruce E.; Montgomerie, Robert D. (1985-08-01). "Incubation feeding in snow buntings: female manipulation or indirect male parental care?". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 17 (3): 279–284. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/bf00300147. ISSN 0340-5443.

Further reading

  • Song, S.; Zhang, R.; Alström, P.; Irestedt, M.; Cai, T.; Qu, Y.; Ericson, P.G.P.; Fjeldså, J.; Lei, F. (2017). "Complete taxon sampling of the avian genus Pica (magpies) reveals ancient relictual populations and synchronous Late-Pleistocene demographic expansion across the Northern Hemisphere". Journal of Avian Biology. 49 (2): jav–01612. doi:10.1111/jav.01612.
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