Skip to Content

Can Magpies Talk?

Can Magpies Talk?

The magpie is one of the most common birds in the entire world, and that is the reason why they are often not given the credit that they deserve. As common as magpies may be, you would be surprised to know that these birds, like all of the other birds that belong to the corvid family, are highly intelligent as magpies rank as some of the most intelligent animals in the world. That said, as smart as magpies are, could they actually be capable of talking?

Magpies can actually be taught how to speak. This is due to the very fact that magpies are some of the smartest animals in the world and are very much capable of cognitive tasks that some other animals are capable of. Of course, this includes the ability to learn how to speak just like how parrots do.

Due to the intelligence of a magpie, it is no surprise that it is capable of a lot of different things that not a lot of other animals can do. This is why you should probably change the way you view the common magpie as this is an animal that can surprise you with a lot of things that it could do or even say if you do actually have a magpie and you have taught it how to speak.

How smart is the magpie?

There are plenty of different birds around the world that are admired for their beauty and grace. Take for instance the peacock, which is admired for its colorful feathers. Meanwhile, the American eagle is often the symbol of strength and power when it comes to birds. However, as much as we do love birds for a lot of different reasons, we often forget that we could also admire these animals for their innate intelligence.

One such instance is the common magpie. When we talk about the magpie, which belongs to the corvid family, it is similar to the crow, one of its close corvid cousins, in the sense that it has a negative reputation for bad luck. Just like how Americans tie crows with superstitious beliefs regarding death or bad luck, at the very least, magpies are also given the same kind of reputation in the UK, as an old British rhyme predicts the person’s ultimate fate based on how many magpies he sees.

That said, just like how we often forget how intelligent crows are because we often tie them in with superstitious beliefs, we also forget the fact that the magpie is also one of the most intelligent birds in the world. In fact, magpies, like any other member of the corvid family, are some of the most intelligent animals we have as they can give all of the other intelligent animals a run for their money. But because we often look at the magpie as a symbol of bad luck, superstition, and mystery, we often forget about its innate intelligence.

But how smart is the magpie?

The common magpie is one of the most intelligent animals in the world not only in terms of its abilities but also in terms of how large its brain is. This is where the “bird brain” description becomes confusing because there are actually plenty of brains that are smart. Birds such as the magpie may have small brains but you have to understand that an animal’s intelligence can be measured by how massive its brain is in relation to its overall body mass. 

In that case, the magpie has a brain-to-body mass ratio that is equal to that of great apes and aquatic mammals such as intelligent dolphins. Meanwhile, humans are the only animals that have a brain-to-body ratio that is greater than that of the magpies. This means that, in terms of how large its brain is in relation to its body size, the magpie is the most intelligent bird on the planet.

That said, because of how large its brain is, the magpie is capable of cognitive tasks that not a lot of other animals are capable of doing. This includes being able to use simple tools that may be too complex for other animals to use. In fact, it has been observed that magpies make simple tools that they can use to portion the food that they give to their young so that they can cut the meals to the proper sizes that their offspring can take. The fact that they are capable of doing that is already astonishing on its own given how animals normally do not display such an intelligent behavior.

Another impressive display of its intelligence can be seen in how the magpie can actually pass the mirror test. What the mirror test does is that it tests whether or not an animal is able to recognize its own reflection as its own self. So, in that case, what happens in the test is that a dot is placed on the animal and that the animal is placed in front of a mirror so that it can see itself and the dot. If it recognizes that the dot is on itself and not on the mirror such as when it actually tries to reach the dot on its body, then that is an indication that they pass the test.

In the case of the magpie, it is intelligent enough that it recognizes itself when it sees its reflection. The fact that it can do that means that it is smart because only four other animals have been able to pass the mirror test. This list includes great apes or primates, dolphins, elephants, and some species of fish.

Can magpies talk?

Now that we have established that magpies are intelligent animals, we now have to talk about how there are some animals, no matter how intelligent are still not capable of speech. Speech in itself is not the best indicator for the intelligence of an animal as Qui-Gon Jinn in the movie Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace said, “the ability to speak does not make you intelligent”. However, it can still be an indicator of how intelligent an animal is because being able to talk shows that the animal is capable of certain levels of cognition.

So, as intelligent as a magpie is, is it actually capable of speech?

Like crows and some of the other members of the corvid family like the raven, magpies can indeed talk. And the way these corvids can talk can be quite similar to parrots but to an extent that isn’t quite as refined as the way parrots are able to mimic sounds. However, magpies and corvids are also simply capable of mimicking sounds as well.

Now, being able to talk is also a display of how intelligent magpies are because knowing how to mimic words needs cognitive abilities that are higher than other animals. While some animals may be able to understand certain words, they aren’t able to mimic them. And due to how intelligent the magpie is, it can easily memorize or remember some of the words that humans often say. It is in being able to memorize, in this case, that the magpie is able to display its intelligence because not a lot of other animals are even capable of memorizing.

However, what you also need to know is that magpies do not talk in the same way as humans do in the sense that they speak as a means of communication. Just like parrots, magpies are not simply talking because they understand the words that they are saying. Instead, they are simply mimicking the sounds that they hear whenever we say certain words that have sounds that are simple enough for them to memorize and mimic.

Now, even though the magpie can only do simple mimicry, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun birds. There are plenty of different videos of talking magpies circulating all over the internet. And watching one can be quite fun because it can be quite unusual for a member of the corvid family to actually speak words that you will normally only hear from humans. That is where the fun is when it comes to a talking magpie.

How are magpies able to talk?

First of all, birds have a cavity that is called the syrinx. In most birds, especially songbirds, the syrinx is used to produce all sorts of different sounds that may come off as songs for us. That is why we love it when there are songbirds nearby as these birds are capable of using their syrinx to produce different sounds that, when combined with one another, are very similar to simple songs. In a way, songbirds are quite entertaining thanks to their syrinx.

Meanwhile, in the case of the magpie, the syrinx is not only used to create different sounds but also to mimic other sounds that the bird hears on a regular basis. This is what essentially allows magpies to speak in a way that is quite similar to that of parrots.

Second, we would like to establish that, while some birds may be capable of using their syrinx to produce similar sounds to that of human speech, they are not as intelligent as the magpie. This is where the magpie’s intelligence comes in to allow it to talk or mimic human speech. After all, mimicry involves not only hearing certain sounds but also memorizing and processing such sounds.

Even though magpies do not understand the context behind the sounds of human speech, they are still smart enough to know how to process the sounds that they hear and memorize that sound so that they can also repeat or mimic them. This is why, other than parrots, only birds belonging to the corvid family are capable of mimicking human speech easily.

Due to how magpies are capable of talking, a lot of magpie owners take advantage of this ability by slowly and steadily teaching their magpies simple words until such words become phrases. So, if you are patient enough to teach your magpie how to speak, you might be able to have a magpie that can say an entire phrase or a sentence that will make this bird the center of attention during simple parties and family gatherings at home.

How to teach a magpie to talk

So, if you want to teach your magpie how to talk, here is a quick step-by-step guide that may be able to help you.

  1. Learn more about your bird and build a relationship with it

Magpies are social animals that are known to form relationships with people. That means that these birds can learn how to trust certain people to the degree that they will see these people as friends. 

In that regard, teaching your magpie how to talk involves a level of trust and comfort between you and the bird because a magpie will only try to mimic someone it trusts and sees as a friend because of how it will try to communicate with that person. As such, it is essential that you build your relationship with your magpie first by playing or hanging out with it as often as you can.

  1. Make it a routine

Similar to how you would train a dog to do tricks, the best routine when teaching your magpie how to speak is to do so in short yet frequent bursts. For example, you can do it probably for five-minute stretches of two to five times per day.

  1. Start with simple words

Once you are already done with the preliminaries, you are now ready to teach your magpie how to speak. The best way to do so is to start with simple words that are only one or two syllables long. You can start with common words such as hello or bye or even the bird’s name (if it has a short name). The shorter and simpler the words are, the faster the magpie can learn how to mimic them.

  1. Baby steps

When we say baby steps, we mean that you should make sure that you train your magpie to talk in the same way you train a baby how to walk in the sense that it should be gradual in terms of the challenge level. Always make sure that you increase the challenge a bit every time you train your magpie to talk. So, for example, if you started with a one-syllable word, you can increase that to two syllables until you reach three syllables or even multiple words.

  1. Always hold the bird near your mouth while training

Magpies learn how to talk through mimicry. So, when you are training it, make sure that you hold it near your mouth so that it will learn the different mouth movements and vibrations that it needs to mimic to say the words that you are saying. Of course, always talk in a slow manner so that the bird can catch up.

  1. Rinse and repeat

Just repeat the routine when it comes to teaching your magpie how to talk. However, it is essential that you gradually improve the difficulty of the words so that your magpie will end up saying multiple words, phrases, or even sentences later on. Of course, when you are teaching your magpie how to talk, don’t think of it as a chore and just simply allow the bird to have fun while bonding with you. You also need to be patient on your part because you still have to remember that, as intelligent as the magpie may be, it is still just a bird and not a human child.