Marvellous magpies

Local magpies

Shows male and female magpies, searching for food, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Magpie couple, searching their patch for food

Shows young magpie on sign, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Young magpie, morning sun

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.

Shows white-grey back of female magpie in Victoria, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Characteristic plumage of female magpie

shows characteristic plumage of young magpie, in greys, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve, photo by Ian Sanderson, http:/www.flickr.com/photos/iansand/4549588249;

Plumage of young magpie,
Photo by Ian Sanderson, http:/www.flickr.com/photos/iansand/4549588249

Shows white backed plumage of Victorian male magpie, on the ground in preferred feeding habitat, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Male magpie: white back

An Australian Magpie in Canberra, Australia.

Black-backed magpie (Canberra, Australia)
(Duncan McCaskill, Picasa Web Albums: Wikipedia)

Preferred habitat

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.

Shows female magpie in tree, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Female magpie

Shows female young magpie in tree, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Magpie, on the outskirts of the Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Shows male magpie in tree branch, just after morning chorus, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Magpie, just after morning chorus

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.

Shows male magpie bounding forward with grub, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Found: an enormous grub

Shows male magpie, bent forward, listening for grubs, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Listening for grubs, male magpie

shows male magpie with fat caterpillar, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Looks like a caterpillar

Shows female, bent forward listening and watching for food, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Female listening for food

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.

Marvellous magpies

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.

Shows group of magpies perched on power lines, in the urban environment, not far from Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

In the urban environment: magpies gathered together, younger and older, male and female

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/

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