Home Smithsonian: National Museum of Natural History Home
Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Bird    Species Name:
Pica hudsonia

Common Name:
Black-Billed Magpie


Chamberlain, South Dakota   September 16, 1804

Auspicious bird

The black-billed magpie is one of two live animals (see prairie dog) to survive shipping from Fort Mandan, South Dakota to Washington, DC.  In 1805, that was a 4,000 mile trip down the Mississippi, across the Gulf, around Florida, and up the Atlantic coast to Chesapeake Bay.  The entire trip took over four months to complete.

The idea to send Jefferson live animals was bold, and playful.  The chances of success were slim.  Looking back, the payoff appears predetermined.  The animals went on display in Peale's Museum in Philadelphia, the forerunner of the major natural history museums around the country.  In Asian cultures, the singing voice of the magpie is thought to deliver good news, or guests.  How appropriate then that Jefferson should receive a magpie from Lewis and Clark.

Magpies, like orcas and pandas, are marked by highly contrasting colors.  White belly and wing patches are set off by black to deep irridescent green on the chest, head, back and tail.  The tail is long, equalling half the body length.  The bird must have made quite an impression on easterners as it represented an entirely different world west of the Mississippi River.

Journal Entries:

Capt. Lewis, September 16, 1804--…come too at…a small creek which we named Corvus, in consequence of having killed a beautiful ...  more>>

References Sabine, Joseph, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the Years 1819,20, 21, and 22, with an appendix on various subjects relating to science and natural history, p.671 [In, Sir John Franklin's published Journal, which is based, in part, on the journals kept by the other officers of the expedition]., J. Murray, London, 1823

see following caption

See following caption
black-billed magpie

See following caption
Magpie illustrated by Alexander Wilson

See following caption
black-billed magpie scavenging

Smithsonian Institution
Copyright Notice
Privacy Notice