Iberian magpie perched
Iberian magpie perched

Azure-winged magpie – A touch of blue

No matter where you are in the Algarve (and many other parts of Portugal except the north), you will find a beautiful magpie, often in large noisy flocks.

I remember the first time I saw these birds many years ago in Alvor, in a large flock near the beach, and was amazed at their contrasting colours.

You’ll notice I haven’t yet mentioned the name of the bird. This is because it always brings up a debate.

Iberian magpie perched
Iberian magpie perched

The common name for this bird is the azure-winged magpie, which also exists in Eastern Asia. It was often thought these birds were brought on ships in the 17th century to Iberia, however, fossils have been found to pre-date this era.

A genetic study was conducted a few years ago and found that the birds in Iberia and Eastern Asia were a distinct different species and they were, therefore, given a new name of the Iberian magpie.

This, of course, means the Portuguese name of ‘pega-azul’ no longer suited, and so, the new name of ‘charneco’ was introduced. At the scientific level, the Eastern Asian bird is Cyanopica cyanus and the Iberian species is Cyanopica cooki.

Iberian magpie perched
Iberian magpie perched

Some people merge the names and is often referred to as the Iberian azure-winged magpie. A lot of literature and references still show the Iberian magpie as the azure-winged magpie. So, you can see why there are often debates over them!

A member of the crow family, the Iberian magpie is slightly smaller than the black and white Eurasian magpie, which, once scarce in the Algarve, is rising in numbers.

It measures around 35cm long. Both sexes are visually the same – a black head, brown back, with stunning blue wings and tails.

The flocks can be huge. There is a local flock in my area that seems to be growing every year. I once gave up counting to 70 when they flew over the garden.  They seemingly move constantly around their territory foraging and they particularly like stealing fruit from trees to the disgust of many farmers. Often jay birds are mixed in the flocks and sometimes arguments occur when the jay steals food from a magpie.

Juvenile Iberian magpie
Juvenile Iberian magpie

During spring, the female builds a nest with construction supplies brought by the male. They breed colonially but with only a single nest in each tree. At the start of June, the female lays up to six eggs and incubates them whilst the male takes on the duty of feeding her and maintenance of the nest.  At around 17 days, both parents feed the hatchlings for another 17 days whereby they fledge to the tree branches and continue to be fed by the parents until they join the flock and continue into adulthood. The young birds are easily identified by grey heads which eventually turn black.

They can be spotted in most places in the Algarve but are less often seen in urban locations as they prefer open woodland.

By Craig Rogers
|| features@algarveresident.com

Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography