All About Red-billed Blue Magpie

all about Red-billed-Blue-Magpie
Meeting: Red-billed Blue Magpie

Red-Billed Blue Magpie Guide


The Red-billed Blue Magpie, also known as the Occipital Blue Magpie is an absolutely stunning bird. Large (±45cm beak to tail), long tailed, brightly coloured, hardy and flamboyant.

One of the smaller and most beautiful members of the crow family, they are intelligent and curious birds, always taking an interest in what is going on. Hand raised youngsters might even learn to say a word or two.


Magpies are big, strong semi-carnivorous birds. As such, they should never be housed with small, weak or defenceless birds. The weaker birds are likely to be killed and eaten! A single magpie could be housed with a non-breeding group of similar sized birds that are able to look after themselves. Even a single bird in a breeding group spells disaster as he will steal and eat any eggs laid by other birds.

Always try to position your aviary where you will get the most pleasure from the birds. Somewhere that you spend leisure time on a daily basis, such as adjacent to a patio, or close to a living room window.

The birds will always remain wild if they only see people once per day at feeding time. Simple, open fronted shelter and flight accommodation is suitable in our mild climate. A good minimum size for a single breeding pair or small non-breeding group is 4.5m long by 1.2m wide and 2.1 m high.

Larger is always better of course. The back 900mm should be enclosed on three sides and roofed to form the shelter. Corrugated iron or fibre cement sheeting are both easy to work with and reasonably inexpensive.

As magpies are not destructive to light gauge chicken mesh and timber, a cost saving can be affected by using these less expensive materials in the construction of your aviary. They are also not destructive to plants, so planting non-poisonous flowering and fruiting shrubs and small trees in the flight can beautify the aviary. Cotoneaster, Wild Olive, Figs, Mulberries (kept well cut back) Peach trees and Apricots are all very suitable. Keep the plants well-spaced to make sure that adequate free flying room remains for these active birds. Prune the plants regularly, keeping branches free of small twigs so that the birds can perch inside the trees. Lawn grass, kept well mown is an excellent floor covering.

Should you opt not to plant the aviary, and also while the plants are still small, provide a sturdy perch at each end of the aviary.

Also provide one or two perches high up, at the back of the shelter for roosting.

Remember their long tails and position the perches clear of the walls and mesh.

Buying A Red-billed Blue Magpie

Wild-caught adult magpies are imported from Singapore, Hong Kong and outlier areas in the Far East fairly regularly. Being adaptable and intelligent birds they settle down fairly quickly but remember that they are wild birds and treat them with extra consideration at first. You should expect to pay about R950 for a pair of imported Redbilled Blue Magpies.

Very limited numbers of •Red-billed Blue Magpies are now being bred locally. Should you be lucky enough to obtain a pair of locally bred, perhaps even hand raised magpies, you will never be sorry. Having no fear of humans, their character and intelligence comes to the fore, and their charm is sure to “get” you. Expect to pay about R1400 - R1500 for a pair of hand raised magpies.

how to Feeding Red-billed Blue Magpie
Feeding: Red-billed Blue Magpie

Feeding Red-billed Blue Magpie

Magpies are omnivores and unfussy feeders. They are always ready to explore new foods, which makes it easy to vary their diet. Should you wish to make up their diet, a mixture of soaked dog cubes, hardboiled egg, chopped fruit and vegetables, together with a little lean raw mince occasionally would suffice. Although live food (insects) is not necessary, they do enjoy it as a treat. As with any home mixed diet, regular vitamin and mineral supplementation is absolutely essential.

I prefer to use a balance, commercial diet. It may be a little more expensive, but you are sure that all the necessary vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc are there in the right quantities.
My breeding birds receive a mixture of equal parts (by volume) of grated carrot, diced apple, diced banana and diced pawpaw.

This “fruit salad” is mixed with dry Avi- Plus (Finch & Softbill, with its higher protein in summer and Mynah & Softbill, lower protein in winter) and allowed to stand for about 10 minutes. If the mix is too dry, I add a little water, if too wet a bit more Avi-Plus.

Aim for a moist, loose and crumbly texture.
A little practice soon gets it right.
In addition, I offer each pair one day old chick (keep frozen but defrost before feeding) per day in winter and two per day in spring and summer. Gassed day-old cockerels are available from any hatchery at negligible cost.

My birds also occasionally get small amounts of hard-boiled egg, lean mince, grated cheese and live insects as treats.

The treats are not necessary in the maintenance diet, but they help to tame the birds and make them recognize the “bringer of good things” as their friend.

Remember what I said about magpies being intelligent?

Because of the nature of their food, it can go off easily if exposed to the sun. Always offer their food in the shade. All food must be freshly prepared daily and offered in clean dishes. It is easiest to have two sets of dishes. Feed in the one set, while cleaning and disinfecting the other set for tomorrow.

All birds must also have fresh water, offered in clean dishes, at all times. My magpies get their water in large 60cm plastic flowerpot saucers. They are great bathers, and a large, shallow water dish allows them to keep their beautiful plumage en excellent condition.

how to Breed Red-billed Blue Magpie
Breeding: Red-billed Blue Magpie

Breeding Red-billed Blue Magpie

The sexes are exactly alike in Redbilled Blue Magpies. The only way to be sure that you have a true pair is to have them surgically or DNA sexed. Most dealers and breeders will have them sexed before offering them for sale.

A true pair of magpies, properly housed and fed, should nest for you. They should begin to breed for the first time when about two years old. Early in the spring is the time to start making preparations for breeding.

Increase the protein content of their diet (see Feeding) as this definitely acts as a breeding stimulus.

Hang a large, open fronted nest box high up in a fairly secluded part of the flight.

Make sure that it is sheltered from the hot sun. Take a large bunch of stiff, hard veldt grass and twist it into a nest/basket shape. Jam in down into the box. Supply the birds with short twigs, rootlets etc. to complete the nest. I find mine to be very lazy in their nest building duties, basically using the nest that I have built with very few alterations.

They lay from 4 - 6 (very occasionally 7) eggs which they incubate for 19 days. For some reason mine always seem to hatch 4 chicks per nest, irrespective of the number of eggs. I have never seen the cock incubate and believe that the hen alone performs this duty. He is very attentive to her on the nest, constantly keeping watch and warning her if anybody approaches.

He also feeds her regularly, as part of his courtship. Once she is sitting, he feeds her both on and off the nest.

Once the chicks hatch, the difficult part starts. Should the pair for any reason, logical or otherwise, be dissatisfied with the rearing food being offered, or with the way it is offered, or with too much or too little, they are likely to kill the chicks and feed them to each other. The time of greatest danger seems to be from the time that the chicks are about 5 - 7 days old. For this reason, I remove the chicks at about a week old and hand raise them. When removing the chicks, remember that your magpies are intelligent. They recognise people as individuals. I always get an outsider to remove the chicks, thus preventing them from associating the loss of their chicks with their usual caregivers.

I have found from experience that they will raise their chicks very well for the first week or so if given a day-old chick about every two hours from dawn to dusk together with ± 50 mealworms twice per day in addition to their normal fruit/Avi-Plus mix.

The chicks are easily hand raised on a mixture of Avi-Plus, lean mince and vitamin/ mineral supplements. They beg well, are strong and grow fast. As soon as the chicks are fully feathered, fruit is included in their diet and they are soon weaned into the adult diet. Once the chicks are removed for hand raising, I find that my pair will usually lay again within a week or two. Last year we raised 10 healthy chicks out of four nests from a single pair of magpies.

The hand raised magpies are the most wonderful and endearing birds. I find it extremely difficult to part with them when the time comes to sell them. Treat yourself to a pair of Redbilled Blue Magpies and you will see what I mean.

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