This painting captures a magpie in midflight; its spreading wings and half-extended feet suggest that it has just taken off or is about to land. The delicate whips of a willow form a minimal backdrop. Their arcing lines imply a breeze behind the bird's forward motion. Although the austere simplicity of this composition is characteristic of the literati tradition of Chinese painting, the rendering of the magpie's plumage is free of the calligraphic brush idioms of traditional scholar-painters. Rather, the bird's naturalism betrays Xu's mastery of Western representational skills.