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Australian Magpies

Updated on January 26, 2017

Australian Magpies - A Beautiful Bird

Having always loved the sound of magpies singing in the morning, and admiring the beautiful plumage of the adult birds, I felt it was time to write a little about them!

The Latin name for this magpie is Cracticus tibicen. It is related to butcher birds, and is native to Australia and the Southern part of Papua-New Guinea.

Adult magpies are quite a large bird, and can be anything from 37 to 43cm long, with very distinct white and black plumage. They have golden brown eyes, and their beak is usually black, or bluish. Both sexes are similar, although the female and younger birds may have more speckling on their backs, while the adult male will be pure white on his back. Birds in different areas often have quite dissimilar markings. On one occasion, I saw a pure white magpie in my suburb.

Australian Magpie

 (], via Wikimedia Commons
(], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Magpie Facts

Magpies are mostly black and white, with various patternings. These patterns vary, depending upon which part of the country the bird is from. Males have white markings on their shoulders and upper tails, and the females are often pale gray in those areas. Their eyes are dark brown.

They usually mate for life, and have their own territories, which they will fight for. They can often be heard singing in the early morning, or late afternoon, perched on high points at the edge of their territory.

It's really pleasant to hear, early in the morning, when you're lying in bed, and they are warbling away nearby. The boundaries of my local group have changed, so they don't come to my power line in the mornings any more. I miss them.

Image by Snakesmum
Image by Snakesmum

Magpie Songs

The magpie to the right was looking for food and came quite close to us. The photo was taken at Tower HIll Nature Reserve, Warrnambool, Victoria.

If you'd like to hear the sound of a magpie singing his territorial song, here is a link:

Here is another recording of a magpie.

Why not listen to one or both of them, then take the poll below.

Do you like the Australian Magpie's Song?

See results

More About Magpies

Although normally magpies are friendly birds, and will come to you to be fed, they can be aggressive at times.

They are known for swooping at people coming too close to their nesting place in the breeding season. I've been swooped a couple of times, and it can be scary. They have strong beaks, capable of inflicting damage. Some people wear helmets with eyes on the back, but these are a dubious protection.

If a pair know the people living near their tree, those people will generally be safe, especially if they have fed the magpies, but strangers, beware!

There are usually up to 20 magpies in a group in any one territory. This consists of an alpha male, several females, and the last couple of years young birds. The younger birds may help to feed and raise the hatchlings.

The alpha male will mate with all the females, and will fight to defend his territory. Song battles at the edge of territories are common. Generally, all the birds in a group will assist in defence of their area, as they need enough space to find food for the group.

Australian Sunrise


Magpies In The Dreamtime

In Australian Aboriginal legend, the magpies or "coolbardie" helped the sun come up at the very first sunrise.

In the Dreamtime, the sky was very close the the ground, so close that only the snakes who crawled on the ground were happy. The kangaroos couldn't hop, the birds couldn't fly, and lizards couldn't climb trees.

The animals propped up the sky with sticks, but the sky was so heavy the sticks snapped and the sky fell again.

The magpies, who were intelligent birds, decided to push the sky up, and they used a very long stick which was very strong. This worked, and the sky rose into its correct place in the world, and everyone was happy.

The sun had room to move now, and came over the horizon for the first sunrise.

Young Magpie

The magpie in the picture is an immature bird. These birds can live for up to twenty years.

Magpies usually breed in Spring, with the female selecting the nesting tree, and building the nest.

She will also incubate the eggs, and will lay between 1 and 6, which she will sit on for about 21 days.

After the young have hatched, she will feed them for about a month, and about two years later, they will be made to leave the territory of their parents. Young birds generally join a flock, which has no fixed territory. Many young are killed on the roads, or by predators.

The photo was taken in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra. Photo Credit

Image bySnakesmum
Image bySnakesmum

Magpie Being Fed

The young magpie shown above is being fed by a parent, in my front garden. I'd thrown out some cat food for them. Magpies will feed upon insects, larvae, and will take food from us as well. They will also eat small reptiles, such as frogs and lizards, and sometimes grains.


Close Encounter With A Magpie!

One morning, I went outside to water my garden, and was just putting the hose away, when a magpie flew very close over my head. I heard it before I saw it, as it came from behind me. No, it wasn't swooping me, as it wasn't breeding season; I think it was just chasing a smaller bird which was annoying it. Loved seeing one so close to me, although I could have done without the scare!

The image shows a female bird in flight.

Magpie Eating
Magpie Eating | Source

Magpie With Meal

Above is a great shot of a magpie eating a grub, and obviously enjoying it.

If you have magpies in your garden, don't worry, they will eat a lot of insects and caterpillars. They may even eat mice on occasion.

Photo Credit :Australian_Magpie_Digging_Grub.jpg: Toby Hudsonderivative work: Nikopol (Australian_Magpie_Digging_Grub.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Adult Magpie

This picture of a magpie in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia, was just too good to ignore. It looks as if this bird is an adult male, from the white back and its size.

Photo Credit : By Jan from Singapore, Singapore (More birdsUploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Magpie And Lorikeets

Magpie Warblings - Leave your comments here:

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    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thanks for visiting and glad you enjoyed the hub. The local magpies sometimes drop by for a feed, but not often enough for me! :-)

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      These birds are remarkably superficially similar to our Crows, but apart from the white markings don't look much like our magpies, which have long, graceful tails. It is amazing how different bird groups on opposite side of the planet evolve to look and act very similarly, and even to occupy the same ecological niche. Great hub.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Not sure why they do this, but sometimes it's the older siblings who help feed the young, and perhaps it's a dominance thing? I'm older than you so behave! Thanks for visiting.

    • profile image

      lynxszr 3 years ago

      I have a great family of magpies that have made our garden part of their home ( have a great photo of a baby being fed a huge grub by a parent ) but wondered why do the parents put the babies on their backs on the ground with their feet in the air and hold them their for several minutes

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      I loved seeing the magpies visit when I was a child but for some reason my mom just did not like them at all. She would be outside shooing them away whenever she heard one in the backyard.

    • Meganhere profile image

      Meganhere 4 years ago

      I love magpies. A few days ago I saw a magpie pair swooping a crow which was obviously in their territory. I could hear their beaks snapping and the crow got pecked a couple of times. Then it came up with the very practical solution of running under a parked car when the magpies were overhead.

      Great photos.

    • kiwikitkat profile image

      kiwikitkat 4 years ago

      Magpies - all I can remember of them is that my father had a tame one and when I arrived home from school, it would swoop out and pull the laces on my shoes. Very interesting.

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 5 years ago

      Your photos are great. I have not heard of the Magpie before.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      They are a very pretty bird. Thanks for the informative lens. I liked the pictures!

    • TransplantedSoul profile image

      TransplantedSoul 5 years ago

      Truly beautiful birds. Every place thas their local specialities.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 5 years ago from Australia

      I love our maggies! I especially love their singing - it sounds like they're harmonising with themselves :-)