I’m back! And what a bird I have for you today. The Azure-winged Magpie is a pretty member of the crow family found in Eastern Asia, from Siberia and Japan down to Hong Kong. It was in Hong Kong that I caught up with the species, as it is easy to find in the splendid wetlands of Mai Po. Unlike other magpies I’ve seen, this one lives in family groups, and like other corvids, are conversational and fun to watch.

azurewinged magpieAzure-winged Magpie. As you can’t see from the wings

The Azure-winged Magpie was for the longest time something of a biogeographical mystery. As well as the population found in East Asia, another smaller population also occurred in the Iberian Peninsula, in Spain and Portugal. This odd distribution with thousands of kilometers (hell half the world) between the two populations confounded scientists. Was it natural, or were the birds in Spain an introduced population. They are, as you can see, pretty enough, but it seems a long way to move a species, especially at introductions hadn’t been recorded in history.

IMG_5461Those berries look good but those wings aren’t showing

Genetic tests eventually showed that along with great geographic distance the two populations were deeply separated by time, an the Iberian species (as it turned out to be) was a relic of a time when the azure-winged types of magpie had a much greater distribution. Oh that birds like it were more widely distributed in Europe today! Still, at least it provides an excuse to go to Spain, or Hong Kong!

IMG_5465Are they taunting me?

magpie flyingThey don’t look azure, or even blue!

IMG_5462Ah! There we go

Azure winged MagpiePretty little thing

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.