Dealing with magpies: Pesky birds defeat homeowner's quest against nests

Calgarian Patti Fellows decided she was done with magpies when she spotted them trying to nest in her cedar tree this spring. In the end, the magpies won.

This Alberta critter is much-hated by many for its loud squawk, persistent scavenging

There are many black-billed magpies in Alberta. These ones were spotted in Calgary. (Pat Fogg/CBC)

Magpies are just about everywhere in most Alberta cities, scavenging garbage for food, stalking pets and nesting in backyards.

And they have a sharp squawk that some may not want outside a bedroom window.

Calgarian Patti Fellows decided she was done with magpies when she spotted them trying to nest in her cedar tree this spring.

She rallied her neighbours and they attempted to wrap her tree in burlap and garbage bags. The birds hopped on the material, ripping it into slits.

"We thought we had them but we didn't," she said with a laugh.

How far would you go to prevent magpies from nesting? This homeowner wrapped her cedar tree in burlap. It didn't work. (Patti Fellows)

Fellows ended up chopping down her cedar tree, fed up with her futile attempts to be rid of magpies.

If you're over the black-and-white urban birds, what do you do? Share your tried-and-true tips and fails for dealing with magpies and other nuisance critters in the comments.

Watch the magpies take over the large cedar tree:

Magpies live loudly, take over trees

3 years ago
Duration 0:58
Magpies are loud, obnoxious and quite the pranksters. Naturalist Brian Keating urges Albertans to give them a chance — despite this homeowner struggling to be rid of the critters.

Magpies are highly intelligent birds that learn quickly and can adapt scavenging techniques easily. They eat insects and fruit, rancid food and sick animals, even picking baby birds from nests — a typical bird-of-prey act.

They're even known to play tricks on each other, Calgary naturalist Brian Keating says, and they clean up a lot of pesky insects.

"Let's celebrate their beauty and their brain, genius and their ability to be jokesters," he said.

Of course, there are people who are magpie fans. In Edmonton, there's an entire park dedicated to the mischievous bird.

Unlike some other birds ("Don't talk to me about starlings"), magpies are native to this area, Keating said. And there's no sign their population is increasing, though it's difficult to measure exact rates.

"They're somewhat obnoxious, I know. They can wake you up at 4:30 in the morning and we find them frustrating," Keating said.

Patti Fellows had hoped wrapping her cedar in burlap would stop magpies from nesting. Unfortunately, the magpies won. (Patti Fellows)

Are they officially considered pests? The Alberta government has an information page about them. On it, it warns that magpies are "protective parents" that dive-bomb intruders who come too close to nests.

It also notes you may see more in the spring because, although they stick around for winter, they're more active when building nests and raising young.

The Calgary Eyeopener's Unconventional Panel debates nuisance animals:

Fellows says she thought nesting birds would be nice but neighbours warned about magpies' less than neighbourly tendencies.

"They're mean birds. They come out, they go after you. They'll dive bomb you," Fellows said. "They don't seem to be very nice. I don't want them here."

The magpies in Fellows' yard created an "absolutely huge" condominium, as she calls it, because the structure of sticks holds multiple pairs of birds. Magpies can nest in pairs or in colonies of up to hundreds of birds.

Magpies scuttle around Alberta cities, scavenging scraps. (Pat Fogg/CBC)

Fellows eventually sought advice from a city staffer.

"She said of course you can't harm the birds but she did say a water gun was very good. It worked in her yard," she said.

Here are a few other ideas from the Alberta government:

  • Move nests that are built before young hatch.
  • Trim trees until the cover is too thin for a bird to comfortably roost.
  • Put up scarecrows, kite or eye balloons and move them often to confuse the birds.
  • Secure all food and garbage.

If you have other advice on how to manage magpie nests, be sure to share your experience below.

With files from Monty Kruger, Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener


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