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Thursday, April 14, 2005


Azure-winged magpie

* Japanese name: Onaga
* Scientific name: Cyanopica cyana
* Description: Magpies are in the Corvid family, that is, they are related to crows and jackdaws. But Azure-winged magpies are more elegant, with long, light-blue tails and wings, gray backs, white throats and black caps on the top of their heads. They are about 35 cm long; adults weigh 5 grams. The Japanese name means "long tail." As for the voice, the birds whistle and trill, and when in groups they are wont to utter a loud note again and again.
* Where to find them: In forests and woodlands from Hokkaido to Kyushu, and often in suburban parks and gardens. Hibiya Park in Tokyo, for example, is home to Azure-winged magpies. Interestingly, they are also found in China and on the Korean Peninsula, and in Portugal and Spain -- but not in between. It used to be thought that this odd distribution was because Portuguese sailors took the bird back from Asia in the 15th century. However, 40,000-year-old fossils have been found in Spain, so now it is thought that the populations were separated in the last Ice Age. Climate change is again threatening the population in Europe.
* Food: Azure-winged magpies are omnivores, eating insects, fruit, seeds and even mice, lizards and small birds if they can get them. The shape of the beak reflects their diet: It is all-purpose, and can deal with most food types. Magpies often forage in groups.
* Special features: All birds are at their most vulnerable when they are young and confined to the nest. Azure-winged magpies have a clever strategy to reduce the risk of predation from foxes and other mammals: They nest within the territories of predatory birds, who drive away predators that approach too closely. Researchers in Tokyo found that only 2 percent of magpie nests located within 20 meters of a sparrowhawk nest were lost to predators. However, 50 percent of those located 40-60 meters away, and 75 percent of those located 80-100 meters away, were predated. Fortunately, more than 50 percent of all magpie nests are located within 20 meters of a sparrowhawk nest. Azure-winged magpies also time their nesting with that of sparrowhawks, and those settling close to sparrowhawks don't put as much effort into camouflaging their nests. PHOTO

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