Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: more black-billed magpies get divorced in Alberta than they do in South Dakota. It’s true. They usually mate for life unless one of them dies and then the remaining magpie may find another mate. Divorces do happen, though, and one seven-year study found divorce rates up to 63% in Alberta. A similar study in South Dakota found divorce rates of only 8%.
I wonder if they have better bird-marriage guidance counsellors in South Dakota, or maybe there is a social condemnation of bird-divorce. Probably, though, it’s the weather. You can’t get out much in an Alberta winter and we all know what it’s like to have too much together-time.
It is also interesting to note that black-billed magpies build nests together as couples, but only one of them occupies each nest. This is, in my view, an excellent arrangement. In my street right now the magpie nests are clearly visible because we do not yet have leaves on the trees. Some of these nests are huge and I went online to find out why they are so big. The birds themselves are quite big, so that is a part of it, but also sometimes new nests are built on top of old nests.
We see lots of magpies here, and in the spring they can get quite aggressive in defending their nests. It is not unusual for them to dive-bomb at people’s heads if they feel threatened. They can also be a nuisance if they eat food left out for backyard picnics or barbecues. On the whole, though, they are useful in cleaning up edible rubbish and eating insects.
At first glance, they appear to be mostly black and white, but when they are in flight their glorious blue and green colours show.
The moral of this story is that you can build a home with your mate and make babies, but there is no guarantee you will stay together forever. In Alberta, in fact, the odds are that you will not, even if you live in separate homes. It doesn’t matter how pretty your plumage may be, you will still be looking for a new mate and making a new nest somewhere at some point. Sigh.