Pica pica (magpie): First record of feeding on cattails

Cattails provide important nesting habitats for birds and food source for a wide variety of animals. Literature reports that rodents (particularly, muskrat), small mammals (white-footed mice), nutria and ungulates (deers), among others, feed on cattails but, to the best of our knowledge, there are no reports of magpies feeding on cattails.

This piece of news reports the first record of magpies feeding on small cattail plants. Within the framework of the Life Biomass C+ project, UPM have tested the establishment of cattails on ponds covered with mulching layers made up of different biomass materials, in order to produce biomass for bioprocessing activities. The ponds were located in the facilities of the Agro-Energy Group (GA-UPM), close to green spaces of Madrid (Spain), where city birds such us sparrows, magpies and monk parakeets (invasive species) thrive.

Cattail plants were grown from seeds in 4.5 x 4.5 cm cells and when they formed compact root balls (shoot height about 20-25 cm), they were planted in outdoor and indoor (greenhouse) ponds (Figure 1).  After plant establishment it was observed that cattail plants were extremely attractive to magpies. They came to the ponds, scratched the mulching layer, and removed plants to get cattail submerged biomass (roots and stolons) (Figure 2). Ponds were protected by bird protection netting. In spite of the netting, magpies are eager to feed on cattail and manage to peck the plants (Figure 3 & 4).

Figure 1. Just-planted cattails

Figure 2. Plants pecked and moved by magpies

Figure 3. Magpies on the lookout for cattails

Figure 4. Magpies after pecking cattails