Cracticus (Gymnorhina) tibicen, Australian Magpie Click to enlarge image
Australian Magpie Image: D Rowland
© D Rowland

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    tibicen
    Genus
    Gymnorhina
    Family
    Artamidae
    Order
    Passeriformes
    Class
    Aves
    Subphylum
    Vertebrata
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    36 cm to 44 cm

Magpies are one of Australia's most highly-regarded songbirds. They have a wide variety of calls, many of which are complex, and their pitch may vary over up to four octaves.

Identification

The Australian Magpie is black and white, but the plumage pattern varies across its range. Its nape, upper tail and shoulder are white in males, grey in females. Across most of Australia, the remainder of the body is black. In the south-east, centre, extreme south-west and Tasmania, the back and rump are entirely white. The eye of adult birds is chestnut brown.


Australian Magpie - With spider in mouth
Magpie - With spider in mouth Image: PublicDomainPictures
© PublicDomainPictures

Habitat

Australian Magpies are found wherever there is a combination of trees and adjacent open areas, including parks and playing fields. They are absent only from the densest forests and arid deserts.

Distribution

Australian Magpies are common and conspicuous birds. Groups of up to 24 birds live year round in territories that are actively defended by all group members. The group depends on this territory for its feeding, roosting and nesting requirements.



Feeding and diet

The Australian Magpie walks along the ground searching for insects and their larvae. Birds will also take handouts from humans and will often venture into open houses to beg for food.

Communication

A loud musical flute-like song, often performed as a duet or by groups. An uncommon alternative name for the Australian Magpie is Flute Bird. The Australian magpie produces a loud musical flute-like song, often performed as a duet or by groups. An uncommon alternative name for the Australian Magpie is Flute Bird. The magpie can mimic over 35 species of native and introduced bird species, as well as other animal calls, such as those of dogs and horses. Magpies have also been noted to mimic human speech, when living in close proximity to humans.

When alone, a magpie will make a quiet, musical warbling noise, which does not carry for long distances. Pairs of magpies often take up a loud musical calling, known as carrolling, which they use to announce or defend their territory. Fledgling and juvenile magpies emit a repeated, short high-pitched begging call. When they feel threatened, magpies will emit several high-pitched alarm calls.



Breeding behaviours

Although the Australian Magpie is generally quite tame, during the breeding season some individuals become aggressive towards any intruders, including humans, which venture too close to their nest sites. Peak breeding season is August through to November.

The nest is a platform of sticks and twigs (occasionally wire), with a small interior bowl lined with grass and hair. The nest is constructed in the outer branches of a tree, up to 15 m above the ground.

Australian Magpie females lay three to five blue or green, brown-blotched eggs. Incubation time: 20 days. The chicks are fed by their mother and have feathers and are ready to fly in about four weeks. Within 2 years, the young magpies are forced by their parents to leave the territory. They join a group until they can gain a place in a territory as an adult breeding bird. Many young birds die in the first months of life due to poor weather conditions, lack of food, road traffic hazards and natural predators.


Magpie - Sitting on fence
Australian Magpie sitting on fence Image: PublicDomainPictures
© PublicDomainPictures

Dangers to humans

Some Australian Magpies can be very aggressive during breeding season and attacks on humans and pets can occur.

Magpies are protected throughout NSW, and it is against the law to kill the birds, collect their eggs, or harm their young.

Australian Magpies are strongly territorial and defend their territories both from other magpies as well as potential predators. Unfortunately, some individual magpies perceive humans as a potential threat and accordingly, swoop down with a fast warning flight, occasionally making contact. Only a small minority of Australian Magpies behaves like this, and some of these aggressive magpies will only swoop on particular people.

Read more - Why do Magpies swoop?

Management

In extreme situations, the National Parks and Wildlife Service issue permits for the destruction of dangerous birds.

If you feel a magpie is a serious menace, it should be reported to your local council or the nearest NPWS office.

www.environment.nsw.gov.au/policiesandguidelines/AggressiveBirdsPolicy.htm