The Australian magpie can be found in most areas of Australia but there are several subspecies. The local magpies – gymnorhina tibicen tyrannica – are distinguished by being the largest of the magpies. The magpies in Australia can also be distinguished by the colour of their back. The local magpies have a white ‘cape’- the male has a white back; the female has grey margins to her white feathers, so it appears grey. Other magpies have a black back, such as the example from Canberra.
Young magpies are grey until the adult plumage grows in.
Magpies are terrestrial feeders and use trees for roosting and nesting. In the Reserve, they can usually be found along the margins, close to open trees.
This couple of magpies prefers the area adjacent to the rotunda. It is easy to see why: the pickings are particularly good at this time of year.
Magpies eat a wide range of food found at ground level – wide variety of invertebrates/ insects, frogs and skinks, mice, carrion and grain. They are well suited to ground habitation with the ability to run easily, their head thrust forward. Usually diurnal (day birds), they are also known to engage in nocturnal feeding, for example, when insects are swarming around street lights during spring and summer.
Family group territories
Like the kookaburra, magpies can live in family groups of a main breeding pair and related individuals, usually younger, which support the group by feeding the young and protecting territory. This group structure can vary, though. Magpies live in preferred territory, one with food supply and nesting habitat.
Not all magpies can find permanent territory and when they do, there can be a lot of time spent defending it, especially through carolling. Those that have permanent territory can be successful in breeding and raising young. In Victoria, magpies can breed between June and January, raising young for up to eight months.
It takes three years before a magpie attains sufficient health and security to breed and produce a clutch of eggs and they can live up to 25 years of age.
It is one of the oldest birds in Australia with a lineage dating back 35 million years. They are a fascinating bird, capable of play, making nests out of wire, and adapting to the presence of people with their adaptation to the urban environment.
Sources and further references
Kaplan, G. (2004) Australian Magpie: Biology and behaviour of an unusual songbird. CSIRO Publishing: Collingwood.
Australian Museum (2009) Australian Magpie Illustration http://australianmuseum.net.au/image/Australian-Magpie-Illustration
Birds in backyards (n.d.) Australian magpie: Basic information, http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Cracticus-tibicen
Trevor’s birding (2011) Crash landing for a baby magpie, 12 Oct 2011 http://trevorsbirding.com/crash-landing-for-a-baby-magpie/