Magpie vs Crow: What Are The Differences?

Written by Hannah Ward
Published: March 24, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/birdsonline
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Magpies and crows are both medium-sized birds known for their equally distinctive appearances. Both birds are extremely adaptable and are found in various habitats. They are often classed as pests due to their liking for eating corn, seeds, and crops. However, despite their similarities, when it comes to magpie vs crow, there are some differences too.

This article will discuss the key differences between magpies and crows, including how big they are and what they look like. We’ll also learn what their nests look like and where they build them. We’ll even discover which one uses a guard to protect the flock against predators. So, come and join us as we explore the differences between magpies and crows!

Comparing Crows and Magpies

Magpies and crows differ in appearance, color, nesting, and behavior.

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Magpies are birds in the Corvidae family from four different genera – Pica, Urocissa, Cissa, and Cyanopica. There are approximately 18 different species of magpie in the world today.

Crows are birds from the genus Corvus which also includes ravens and rooks. There are approximately 34 species of crows, and amongst the most common are the American and Eurasian crows.

CrowMagpie
LocationWorldwideAsia, Europe, North America, Tibet
HabitatGrasslands, woodlands, moorlands, coastlines, marshes, urban areasGrasslands, meadows, forest edges
SizeWingspan – approx 36 inchesWingspan – approx 20 to 24 inches
ColorTypically black, although it can be black & white or grey depending on species.Black & white, blue, or green
TailShort, tail feathers all the same lengthLong, approx same length as the body
Nest ShapeCup-shapedDome-shaped
Nest LocationTrees, shrubs, rocky outcrops, pylons, telegraph polesTrees, thorny bushes
MigratorySome species migrateNo
SoundCawChattering (chak-chak)
DietInsects, worms, mice, frogs, eggs, rabbits, grain, fruit, nuts, berriesBeetles, flies, caterpillars, spiders, worms, fruit, nuts, berries, grain
PredatorsHawks, eagles, owls, raccoonsCats, dogs, foxes, owls
Lifespan4 – 20 years depending on species25 – 30 years

The 4 Key Differences Between Magpies and Crows

The main differences between magpies and crows are appearance, color, nesting, and behavior.

Crows are usually larger than magpies, but magpies have a much longer tail. Magpies tend to be black and white, blue, or green, whereas most crows are completely black. Crows make distinctive cup-shaped nests, while magpies’ nests are dome-shaped. Additionally, some species of crow migrate, but magpies do not migrate at all.

Let’s discuss these differences in detail!

Magpie vs Crow: Appearance

Crows are large, heavy birds with long legs and a wide wingspan of approximately 36 inches. They have stocky bodies and large, straight bills. Crows have short tails and their tail feathers are all the same length.

Magpies are typically smaller than crows and have a wingspan of approximately 20 to 24 inches. They have slender bodies but one of their most distinctive features is their long, wedge-shaped tail. Magpies’ tails tend to be roughly the same length as their bodies which adds to their long and slender appearance.

Magpie vs Crow: Color

magpies perched together on a moss covered branch
Magpies are known for their stunning black and white appearance.

iStock.com/JMrocek

As well as the differences in their size and the length of their tails, crows and magpies are each distinctive for their colors. Crows are typically completely black, which can often lead to confusion between them and ravens. However, there are a few species that can be black and white or grey, although these are in the minority. Magpies are famous for their stunning black and white coloring and their black feathers tend to have a glossy green sheen to them. However, some species of magpie are blue or green. Black and white magpies are typically from the Pica genus, while blue and green magpies are from the other three genera.

Magpie vs Crow: Nesting

Crows and magpies both build distinctive nests. Crows prefer to build their nests high up in trees. However, if no trees are available, they will build them in shrubs, on rocky outcrops, or even on man-made structures such as pylons or telegraph poles. Crows’ nests are cup-shaped and often have a large, bulky appearance. They are built from sticks and grass which are held together with mud and soil. The nests are then lined with feathers and any hair or wool they can find to provide a warm environment for their eggs.

Magpies also build large nests and they are made from sticks and twigs which are held together with mud. However, magpies’ nests are dome-shaped and often contain an additional mud-lined cup inside them. Magpies prefer to nest in trees and thorny bushes where they can keep them hidden and safe from predators.

Magpie vs Crow: Behavior

Carrion crow (Corvus corone), black bird perched on branch.
As one of the most intelligent birds around, crows use a sentry to act as a warning system against danger.

Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock.com

Crows and magpies both exhibit their own unique behavior. Crows have an excellent method of protecting themselves as they use a sentry to protect the flock. A sentry is a crow that stands guard while the others are eating, watching for any potential threats or predators. If there is any sign of danger, the sentry calls out a warning to the rest of the group.

Although both birds are bold, magpies are known for the way that they land on the backs of deer and elk to eat ticks from them. Additionally, magpies sometimes work together as a flock to drive predators away from nesting sites. Magpies also have a unique gait which makes them look like they are strutting. This is because when they walk, they take long, slow steps, which tend to give them an air of arrogance.

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About the Author

I have been writing professionally for several years with a focus on animals and wildlife. I love spending time in the outdoors and when not writing I can be found on the farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep, and pigs.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are magpies and crows from the same family group?

Yes, both magpies and crows are from the family group Corvidae which includes crows, magpies, ravens, rooks, jays, jackdaws, treepies, nutcrackers, and choughs.  Corvidae is typically known as the crow family, or simply “corvids”.

Are magpies and crows aggressive?

Although neither crows nor magpies typically pose a threat, they can both become aggressive if they feel threatened – particularly during the breeding season and near to their nest.  In these cases they will often swoop down and dive at whatever – or whoever – they consider to be threatening them.

Are crows and magpies intelligent?

Yes, both magpies and crows are considered to be amongst the most intelligent birds around.  Research has found that they can both recognize and remember individual faces for many years.  Additionally, crows are able to solve complex problems and understand cause and effect.

Are crows and magpies bad luck?

Although crows and magpies are often thought to be harbingers of doom and play a part in many superstitious tales, there is no evidence that they are bad luck.

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