Magpie in Nature & Myth

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Illustration: Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Black-billed Magpie, pica pica

Navigation Note: When you click on the links below, a new window opens
to an outside website. When you're done, close the new window to return
to our "Magpie in Nature & Myth" web page at

Magpie: “one of those clever birds that has shamanic qualities”
Minnehaha, the daughter of a Blackfoot tribe hunter, said to the buffalo herd, “Oh, if you would only come over the cliff, I would marry one of you.” She was surprised that they responded and tumbled over the cliff to provide food for her people. But she was carried away by the elder buffalo to be his bride. Her father searched for her and was stampeded to death. Minnehaha cried and asked the magpie to find a piece of her father's bones. The magpie found one, and Minnehaha chanted a song that brought her father to life. The buffalo chief said, if you teach that song of restoration to us, we'll sacrifice ourselves to feed your people. Then they taught her their sacred Buffalo Dance.
— Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (1988), pp. 75-78

Magpie Symbolism
Chinese: The "Bird of Joy"; good fortune. A chattering magpie signifies good news, the arrival of guests. Under the Manchu dynasty it also represented imperial rule. Christian: The Devil; dissipation; vanity. — J. C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols (1978), p. 102

[PYC note: When I came across the good-evil dichotomy in east-west symbology for the magpie, other examples came to mind. The bat is a symbol of evil in the West associated with vampires. But in China it symbolizes good luck, because the Chinese word "bat", fu sounds like the word for "fortune". Bats in Chinese Art. In Europe, Saint George slays the evil dragon to rescue the princess. However, the Oriental dragon is a benevolent creature that brings forth the rain and guards the sacred pearl of great price.]

Magpie is a bird that belongs to the same family as crows, ravens, and jays. The black-billed magpie lives throughout Europe, central Asia, parts of Siberia, and western North America from Alaska to New Mexico. The yellow-billed magpie lives in California.
(A-to-Z Science: Magpie, from

Watchable Wildlife— Magpies
The yellow-billed magpie holds the honors for being the only bird found exclusively within California's borders. Bird watchers from around the world travel to the Central Valley and south coast ranges to see this flashy native. (By Bob Garrison, Outdoor California, July/August 1994)

About Magpie, The Bird (Argonne National Laboratory)
(Review of Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies and Jays by Candace Savage)

Magpie-Larks are a small Australasian family composed of just two species in the genus Grallina: the Magpie-lark and the Torrent-lark G. bruijni of New Guinea.
(Don Roberson's Bird Families of the World)

Fact Sheets: The Australian Magpie
The magpie is a common bird, seen in parks and suburban gardens across many parts of Australia. It is easily recognised: its head, belly and tail tip are all black, and there are splashes of white on its wings, its lower back and tail, and the back of its head. Its beak is blue-grey in colour, its legs are black, and its eyes are brown. (from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service)

Australian Magpie: Black Back, White Back, and Western
(Sassy's Unique Australian Animals)

New Zealand Birds: Magpie
(Narena Olliver's New Zealand Birds)

Formosan Blue Magpie Urocissa caerulea
(Wayne Hsu's homage to the Formosan Blue Magpie or Taiwan Magpie)

Korean Magpie: Good News
Koreans believed that magpies delivered good news and invited good people. The most famous painting related to a magpie is the one with striped tiger (ggach'i wha horangi minhwa): the magpie is happily chirping to a tiger. The magpie represented good news and the tiger symbolized good luck, since its pronunciation in Chinese sounds similar to good luck (bok).
(Korean Symbolism of Animals & Birds)

The Magpie: From early ages, the magpie has been known as the lucky bird which delivers good news. The magpie inhabits Mountain Acha and Children's Grand Park but can be spotted anywhere. This intimate bird represents the bright future of Gwangjin-gu. (from Gwangjin-Gu district, Korea)

Magpie, a Symbol of Happiness
Magpie is a symbol of happiness in Chinese culture. The singing of a magpie foretells happiness and good luck. That's why it is called 'Happy Magpie' by Chinese people. The Manchu minority in Northeast China even regards magpies as sacred birds. Legends concerning magpies are found in the historical records about Manzhu. (By Ye Qinfa, China Online)

Magpie: Pica Pica This black and white, black-billed, long-tailed Jay is the only member of its family to live in both hemispheres. It has long been known as a thief. Generally, this bird has bad thoughts attached to it and it was the symbol of garrulity. It was sacred to Bacchus, the God of wine, so it became associated with intoxication. (from Rutledge Books, Inc., subsidy publishing)

Louis Agassiz Fuertes: Magpie, Black-billed
(Fuertes Illustration Collection, Cornell University Library Rare & Manuscript Collections)

The Lone Magpie Page
(Curious customs and superstition about lone magpies throughout the British Isles)

Raven's Aviary
(Ravens, Crows, and the rest of the Corvidae)

* The Magpie and The Bell
(Korean folktale of heroism and retribution, Dr. Jason N. Joh's Korean Folktales)

* The Origins of the Buffalo Dance (similar to PBS story Joseph Campbell told to Bill Moyers)
(Powerful Symbols: Honoring the Animal Spirits, Native American Art & Education Center)

* Magpie pays for bread it eats
(News from London, Sydney Morning Herald, August 4, 2000)

Claude Monet. The Magpie. c.1868-1869. Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France (Olga's Gallery) [PYC Note: I recall Charlie Rose asking Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, what is his favorite painting. Montebello walked Rose to Monet's Magpie and commented “It's a small painting (35" x 51"), but look at the snow, it's so perfect and peaceful.” Perhaps this Monet painting was on loan to the Met during their Impressionist Exhibit in 1994.]

The Tame Magpie, circa 1707-08 (by Alessandro Magnasco, Italian, Genoese, 1677-1749): A man teaching a magpie to sing— an impossible task, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Back to Christmas Card

| Top of Page | Magpies Notes | Monet's Art | A-Z Portals |
| References | Enlightenment | Romance | Home |

© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (12-21-2001)