150 Boise Icons: the magpie

awebb@idahostatesman.comFebruary 13, 2013 

Did you know? The journal of Lewis and Clark makes note of magpies, unafraid of humans, snatching meat from the explorers’ camp. Lewis and Clark admired the birds enough to send four magpies, one prairie dog and one prairie grouse back east to Thomas Jefferson. The prairie dog and one magpie survived.

PETE ZIMOWSKY — Idaho Statesman file

"I love magpies," said Cort Conley, admitting that the birds have a bad reputation from their habit of stealing songbird eggs.

Conley, a writer and director of literature at the Idaho Commission on the Arts, said the black-billed magpie, a ubiquitous sight in local yards and parks, deserves a spot on any list of Boise icons.

"Old-timers have told me there were once bounties paid for magpies. People would collect magpie eggs, string them together and cash them in," he said.

They'd do the same with magpie legs, as recently as the 1940s.

Conley respects the birds' savvy. They're members of the crow family. Smart. He's heard of magpies, sometimes called Mormon pheasants, that have learned to ring doorbells for food. In a blizzard, they'll roost on the back of a cow to stay warm.

"Every magpie has different markings. They can recognize their siblings. They respect each others' borders," said Conley.

The birds are elegant in the colors of their feathers, but also their blue green eggs. Impressionist Claude Monet's painting, "The Magpie," hangs in the Musée D'Orsay in Paris.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service

Top Jobs

View All Top Jobs

Find a Home

$297,500 Boise
4 bed, 3 full bath. Very desirable neighborhood w/community...

Find a Car

Search New Cars