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Wednesday's Wildlife: Calgary Corvids

Updated: Jan 15

Black-billed magpies are one member of the corvid family that live in Calgary. This family includes species such as jays, the Clark’s nutcracker, the American crow and the common raven. Most corvid family members can be distinguished by their rictal bristles (stiff feathers where the beak meets the face). All members of this family demonstrate a high level of intelligence, through acts like tool use, self-awareness in mirror tests, and complex social structures.

Corvid fun facts:

·      American crows and black-billed magpies hatch with blue eyes, which turn brown as they mature.

·      Grey jays (Whiskey jacks) preserve food balls with their sticky saliva and cache them for winter snacks!

Juvenile black-billed magpie with blue eyes.
Figure 1: Young blue-eyed black-billed Magpie.

How to differentiate the common raven from the American crow:

1.    Size:  ravens are roughly double the size of crows.

2.    Beaks: raven beaks are thicker and curvier compared to crows.

3.    Call: ravens make deep-throated sounds; crows have a higher pitch.

4.    Tail feathers: ravens have a wedged-shaped tail; crow tails are fan-shaped.

5.    Throat feathers: ravens have large feather ruffs on their throats; crow throat-feathers are smooth.

Comparing two corvids: the American crow pictured above, to the common raven, pictured below.
Figure 2: American crow (above) and common raven (below).

·      Black-billed magpie nests are complex! They take several weeks to construct, beginning with a mud cup that is anchored to a tree branch. An outer dome is woven together using sticks, mud and moss. Secondary cavity nesters make use of these high-calibre builds, using them for their own nesting sites once the magpies have moved on. Species of raptors like the long-eared owl are an example of a secondary cavity nester.

Wildlife comic depicting the black-billed magpie offering re-sale of its nest to the long-eared owl like a real estate agent.
Figure 3: Calgary Wildlife Comic "Cheep" Real Estate.

If you observe a wild animal in need of help, please call our hotline at:


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