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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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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 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.