Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



Mollhoff, “Photo Documentation by Ron and Anne Kruse of Black-billed Magpie Nest Cycle in Hall County,” from Nebraska Bird Review (June 2013) 81(2).


Copyright 2013 Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Used by permission.


Every once in a while a fortunate birder has a chance to witness the sequence of events that make up a breeding season. In May of 2004, NOU members Ron and Anne Kruse of Grand Island had that opportunity and made the most of it. While checking Eastern Bluebird nest boxes on the south side of the northernmost channel of the Platte River east of Locust Street in the City of Grand Island Wellfield property, they found a Black-billed Magpie nest. They returned with a camera and ladder and photographed the nest at two-day intervals for the next three weeks. Their photos show the chicks' rapid development, a speedy process likely to amaze anyone who has not had the opportunity to see it firsthand. Using a 12-ft stepladder to view the nest, they found that although most magpie nest cups are solidly roofed over by sticks, this one was open enough on top that they were able to see into the nest. They took photos one-handed, reaching through the canopy of sticks and taking care not to damage the structure assembled by the adult magpies. The nest was about 13 feet high in a mostly dead mulberry tree and about 25 feet from the nearest bluebird box. The area is between the braided channels of the Platte River, with dense stands of trees interspersed with open grassy meadows. On two occasions, the chicks opened their mouths in response to the noise or motion made when the photographs were taken, but at no time did an adult magpie approach the nest while Anne and Ron were present. Close examination of these magpie nesting sequence photos will show nestling developmental characteristics seldom seen either by bird lovers or scientists.