Crows Vs Magpies: A Friendly Rivalry Amongst Birds




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Are you curious about the differences between crows and magpies?

Both of these birds belong to the Corvidae family, which includes ravens and jays as well. While they share some similarities, they also have distinct differences that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the physical characteristics and behavioral traits of crows and magpies.

So, what are the key differences between crows and magpies? And what similarities do they share? Let’s dive in and find out.

Key Takeaways

  • Crows and magpies are both members of the Corvidae family, which also includes ravens and jays.

  • Crows are known for their black feathers and loud cawing calls, while magpies have striking black and white feathers and chattering calls.

  • Despite their differences, both crows and magpies are highly intelligent and adaptable birds that have thrived in a variety of environments.

Quick Summary

Scientific NameGenus CorvusPica pica
Average Lifespan7-8 years (in the wild)6-7 years (in the wild)
Size17-21 inches in length17-18 inches in length
Weight0.69-1.66 lbs0.5-0.6 lbs
HabitatWidespread worldwideEurope, Asia, Africa
ColorPrimarily blackBlack and white
IntelligenceVery highVery high
Breeding SeasonSpringSpring
Clutch Size3-9 eggs4-6 eggs
NestingIn trees or on tall structuresIn trees
Common BehaviorsSocial, can use tools, problem-solvingSocial, problem-solving, hoarding shiny objects
Conservation StatusLeast Concern (varies by species)Least Concern

Crows Vs Magpies: Key Differences

While they may look similar at first glance, there are some key differences between these two birds.


One of the most noticeable differences between crows and magpies is their appearance. Crows are usually completely black, while magpies have a black and white pattern on their feathers. Some species of magpies, such as the black-billed magpie, also have blue or green hues in their feathers.


Another way to tell the difference between crows and magpies is by looking at their tails. Magpies have a much longer tail than crows, which can be useful for balance and maneuvering in the air.


While they share the same family, crows and magpies are different in many respects. They belong to different genera within the Corvidae family. Crows are part of the genus Corvus, while magpies belong to several genera, the most common of which is Pica.

Black-billed Magpie and Yellow-billed Magpie

There are two species of magpies found in North America: the black-billed magpie and the yellow-billed magpie. The black-billed magpie is found in the western United States and Canada, while the yellow-billed magpie is found in California. The yellow-billed magpie has a distinctive yellow bill and is slightly smaller than the black-billed magpie.


Crows and magpies also have different behaviors. Crows are known for their intelligence and problem-solving abilities, while magpies are known for their tendency to steal shiny objects. Magpies are also more social than crows and often live in large groups.


They also build distinctive nests:

Crows Nests:

Crows differ in they build their nests in the crotches of trees or on horizontal branches, and sometimes on human-made structures. The nests are typically 1.5 to 2 feet in diameter and made up of three layers:

  1. The outer layer, constructed from large twigs.

  2. A layer of bark, mud, and smaller twigs to provide structure and stability.

  3. An inner cup lined with soft material like grass, moss, and feathers for insulation and comfort.

The nest construction is a collaborative effort, often involving the male bringing the materials and the female doing most of the building.

Magpie Nests:

Magpies, on the other hand, are known for building quite intricate and domed nests. These nests are much more elaborate compared to those of most other birds:

  1. The outer shell is made of a mass of sticks, often thorny to deter predators. It can be up to three feet wide.

  2. Inside this outer layer is a chamber, often lined with mud, grass, rootlets, and other soft materials.

  3. Most notably, many magpie species build a domed roof above the nesting chamber, with an entrance tunnel on the side.

Magpie nests are usually in trees but can also be in large shrubs and, occasionally, on the ground. Both the male and female participate in the nest-building process.

Similarities Between Crows and Magpies

Crows and magpies belong to the family Corvidae (often called the crow family), which includes over 120 species of birds. They share several similarities, such as:


Both crows and magpies have a similar body shape, with a stout beak and relatively short legs. They are also both black birds, although magpies have distinctive features such as white markings on their wings and tail feathers. Both birds have a distinctive strut when they walk.


Crows and magpies are both considered the most intelligent birds, as are many members of the Corvidae family. They exhibit problem-solving skills, memory, learning ability, and even tool use that is rare among non-human animals.

Crows are renowned for their problem-solving abilities. There are many accounts of crows using tools such as sticks or wires to obtain food from difficult places. Some species, like the New Caledonian crow, are especially known for this behavior and can even create tools from raw materials, bending twigs or leaves to make probes. Crows also have excellent memories and can remember human faces and places for several years.

Magpies, particularly the Eurasian magpie, are also highly intelligent. They’re one of the few animal species able to recognize themselves in a mirror, a capability typically associated with higher mammals, indicating a degree of self-awareness. Like crows, they can solve problems, use tools, and remember places and events.


Crows and magpies are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. They will eat insects, small mammals, and carrion, as well as fruits, seeds, and other plant material.

Social Behavior

Both crows and magpies are highly social birds that form large flocks. They are also known to engage in cooperative breeding, where multiple birds help to raise the young of a single pair.

Behavioral Traits

Crows and magpies are both known for their unique behavioral traits that set them apart from other birds.

Territorial Habits

Crows and magpies are both highly territorial birds. They will defend their territory from other birds and animals, especially during the breeding season. Crows are known to form large groups to defend their territory, while magpies are more solitary in their territorial behavior.

Flight Patterns

Crows and magpies have distinct flight patterns. Crows tend to fly in a straight line, while magpies have a more erratic flight pattern with quick changes in direction. Magpies are also known for their acrobatic flight displays, which they use to attract mates and defend their territory.

Problem-Solving Skills

Both crows and magpies are highly intelligent birds with advanced problem-solving skills. They have been observed using tools to obtain food and solving puzzles to access hidden food sources. Crows have also been observed using cars to crack open nuts and dropping hard-shelled prey from a height to crack them open.

Crows and Magpies – Cultural Significance

Crows and magpies, members of the corvid family, are iconic figures with rich representations in popular culture worldwide. Their striking appearances and highly intelligent behavior, coupled with their adaptability to diverse habitats, have earned them a place in the folklore, literature, and art of various societies.

In the realm of folklore and mythology, crows often symbolize mystery, transformation, and life’s magic. For instance, in Native American cultures, the crow is considered a trickster figure, possessing intelligence and creativity. In contrast, Celtic and Norse mythology view the crow as an omen of death or war. The crow’s role as a harbinger of change is also prevalent in Japanese mythology, where Yatagarasu, a three-legged crow, symbolizes divine intervention and guidance.

Magpies, too, have their folklore. In Western culture, the bird often signifies good fortune or luck, contrary to its portrayal in East Asian folklore, where it’s seen as a bringer of joy and good news. Perhaps the most widely recognized magpie superstition comes from an old English nursery rhyme, “One for Sorrow,” which relates the number of magpies seen to a future event, ranging from sorrow to silver or gold.

Magpies hold a special place in Chinese culture. Known as “xi que” in Mandarin, they are symbols of good luck, fortune, and joy. The Chinese character for magpie (喜) shares the same pronunciation as the character for happiness (喜), which explains part of the association.

In traditional Chinese folklore, magpies are seen as birds of celebration. For example, the sighting of a magpie is considered a sign of upcoming happiness or the arrival of a guest. It’s thought to be especially lucky to see a magpie on the Chinese New Year or on the morning of a wedding day.

FAQS on Crows vs Magpies

Are magpies scared of crows?

It depends on the specific situation. In general, crows tend to be larger and more aggressive than magpies, which can lead to magpies being wary of them. However, magpies are also known to be quite bold and may stand their ground or even harass crows, especially when defending their nests or territory.

Are crows and magpies related?

Yes, both crows and magpies belong to the Corvidae family, which also includes other birds like ravens, rooks, and jays. They share a common ancestry and exhibit similar behaviors such as high intelligence, adaptability, and complex social structures.

Are crows a threat to magpies?

Generally, crows aren’t a direct threat to magpies in terms of predation as both species are omnivorous and primarily feed on a diet of invertebrates, seeds, and carrion. However, they might compete for the same resources, and crows, being larger, could potentially dominate. Moreover, crows may pose a threat to magpie magpies nests and eggs, which male ravens defend vigorously.

Are magpies ravens or crows?

Magpies are neither ravens nor crows. While they share the same family (Corvidae) with ravens and crows, they are a different genus (Pica). Ravens and crows belong to the genus Corvus. The magpie’s distinct black and white coloration and long tail also make them visually different from crows and ravens and it is often said a magpie swooped whilst a crow circled.

How Many Types of Crow are there and what are the most common?

There are around 40 species of crow worldwide. Here are five of the most common or well-known types of crow:

  1. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos): This is the crow most commonly seen in North America. It’s all black, with a fan-shaped tail and a harsh “caw” call.

  2. Carrion Crow (Corvus corone): Common across Europe and eastern Asia, the Carrion Crow is a solitary bird, unlike the sociable American Crow. It’s similar in size but has a more square-ended tail and a deeper, more guttural call.

  3. Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix): This crow species is found across northern and eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East. It’s distinctively marked with a grey body and black wings, head, and tail.

  4. Rook (Corvus frugilegus): While technically a different species from crows, rooks are often grouped with them. They are native to Europe and parts of Asia. Rooks have a more peaked head and wedge shaped tail and a lighter bill compared to crows.

  5. Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides): Despite its name, it is more closely related to crows than to true ravens. It is native to Australia and is the largest species of crow. It’s often identified by its throat hackles, which are longer than those of other species.

What are the most intelligent animals?

After humans, great apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, demonstrate impressive cognitive abilities, including tool use. Dolphins, particularly the bottlenose species, are known for complex social behaviors and communication. Elephants and certain bird species like corvids and parrots exhibit problem-solving skills, long-term memory, and emotional intelligence.

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