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Australian magpie

Australian magpie - Wilbung

What are Australian magpies?

Australian magpies are a medium sized black and white bird native to both Australia and New Guinea. All magpies have a black head, belly, and tail, featuring patches of white. Magpies look slightly different in different parts of Australia, but they all have a brownish-red coloured eye. This is an easy way to tell them apart from currawongs, which have yellow eyes and Australian ravens, which have white eyes. 

The scientific name for the Australian magpie is Gymnorhina tibicen

Djarrawunang, wilbung, and marriyang are all names for the Australian magpie used by the Darug people of the Sydney basin.

What do magpies eat?

Magpies are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals. They usually feed by walking along the ground and picking food out of the soil. They eat all sorts of insects and larvae, but will also eat spiders, mice, and small lizards and snakes.

What adaptations do magpies have? 

Australian magpies have strong, sharp beaks for digging in the soil to feed. They also have long legs which are excellent for walking around on the ground looking for food. 

Although they have chicks in their nest, they can sometimes swoop potential threats to protect their chicks. 

How do magpies reproduce and what is their life cycle?

Magpies usually mate for life. They lay 4-6 eggs high up in a nest. The chicks take about 20 days to hatch. They are born pink, naked, and blind with large feet, a short broad beak and a bright red throat.

The chicks do not grow all their feathers for over a month, and don’t leave the nest for about the first six weeks. The chicks are mostly fed by their mother, although other 'helper' magpies may help to feed and raise the young.

The chicks stay with their parents for 3-4 months until they are independent enough to live by themselves. Juvenile (young) magpies are usually able feed themselves by six months old. 

If the juvenile magpies stay in the nest for too long, the parents will kick them out of the nest to start a new family. 

Magpies live for around 25 years, although some have been known to live up to 30 years!

What are magpie nests like?

Magpies make messy nests out of sticks lined with some soft feather, grass or even hair. They are usually very high up in trees. Magpies sometimes collect small shiny objects and place them in their nests.

What threats do magpies face?

Australian magpies are not a threatened species. In fact they love to live in our cities and towns where humans have cleared the undergrowth but left tall trees. They are commonly found in places like parks, ovals, golf courses and gardens. 

However, in these urban areas, magpie chicks are vulnerable to attacks by cats, dogs and native birds of prey. Magpies can also be hit by cars.

Why do magpies swoop and what can you do about it?

Australian magpies only swoop to defend their nests when there are eggs or chicks in them. This happens in spring time for about four weeks, after which the chicks can fly and the adults stop swooping. Only some magpies swoop, and even fewer actually make contact. If the magpie thinks a human is a threat to its chicks, it can swoop down close as a warning, and sometimes it can even hit someone’s head with its sharp beak. This can be quite scary, especially if you are riding a bike! You can protect yourself from being swooped by avoiding the area under the nest for a few weeks, or by wearing a hat or carrying an umbrella. It is illegal to hurt a magpie, or its eggs, nest or chicks. 

What sound do magpies make?

Magpies have one of the most beautiful songs of all Australian birds. It is hard to describe in writing, but they have a warbling, questioning song that soars and dips like a melodic conversation. Often a big group of magpies will all sing at the same time to mark their territory. Baby magpies have a nagging squawk which continues until one of their parents feeds them.

Should you feed magpies?

Humans should not feed magpies. The food we eat can make them sick. If humans continue to feed magpies, they start to expect that humans will feed them and change their natural hunting behaviour to become reliant on humans.

Have you read Waddle Giggle Gargle by Pamela Allen?

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