Asir Magpie

Asir Magpie

Pica asirensi

The Asir Magpie is an isolated and distinct form of magpie inhabiting the highlands of south-western Saudi Arabia. While superficially similar to Eurasian magpie (Pica pica), the Asir magpie has darker plumage, a much larger bill, and distinct vocalizations. As Saudi Arabia's only endemic bird and due to the species' globally endangered status, it is a very high research and conservation priority. The Smithsonian Institution partnered with Saudi Aramco and the Saudi Wildlife Authority in 2018 to lead the first in-depth investigations of this little-known species.


Average Height: 46 cm

Average Weight: 240 g

Estimated Population: 135 pairs or fewer (270 mature individuals)

Habitat: Restricted to juniper (Juniperus procera) forests high in the mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia

Conservation Status: Endangered


In the summer of 2018, Smithsonian and Saudi Aramco Environmental Protection Department biologists initiated a joint project with the Saudi Wildlife Authority to study the ecology of the elusive Asir magpie.

Little is known about the diet, breeding, or movements of this species, which is restricted to a small area of rugged mountains in southwest Saudi Arabia. The species’ range, primarily falling within Asir Province, is characterized by dramatic escarpments, terraced hills, and juniper forests. Unfortunately, this austere landscape is threatened by human development, resulting in the loss of the habitats the species relies on for survival.

During fieldwork, the team located several pairs of magpie, and managed to catch 14 birds to take morphometric measurements, collect samples for genetic analyses, and deploy miniature satellite transmitters to study the movements and habitat use for the first time ever.

These tracking data will help to describe the ecology of the species in depth, including home range size, seasonal movement patterns, and juvenile dispersal. Most birds were fit with archival tags, meaning birds must be recaptured for the data collected to be retrieved and analyzed. We're looking forward to the next stages of this project as we acquire information on the movements of these endangered birds.

Meet the Team

Abdullah Alsuhaibany

Terrestrial Ecologist
Environmental Protection Department
Saudi Aramco

Chris Boland, Ph.D.

Terrestrial Ecologist
Environmental Protection Department
Saudi Aramco

Evan Buechley, Ph.D.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Migratory Bird Center
National Zoological Park

Alex Jahn, Ph.D.

Migration Patterns Fellow
Indiana University
Environmental Resilience Institute

Pete Marra, Ph.D.

Director, Georgetown Environment Initiative
Laudato Si' Professor of Biology and the Environment
Georgetown University
Emeritus Senior Scientist, Migratory Bird Center
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
National Zoological Park

Brandt Ryder, Ph.D.

Research Scientist
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute Migratory Bird Center
National Zoological Park


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