The black and white Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is a medium-sized perching bird native to Australia and New Guinea. With their characteristic black and white plumage, these magpies belong to the family Artamidae of the order Passeriformes and are closely related to the butcherbird. In fact, the pied butcherbird looks quite like an Australian magpie but is smaller with subtle differences in the color pattern of the plumage.
Australian magpies are common across most of Australia and are easily recognized by their conspicuous appearance and loud musical Australian magpie song. Another striking behavior of this bird species is its tendency to swoop and attack people during the breeding season, a common nuisance to cyclists and pedestrians.
Australian magpies are found in areas with trees as well as abundant open space. These omnivorous bird species forage for food on the ground and, unlike any other bird, will also beg for food!
There is a lot more to know about these magpies from Australia. Read on to find out!
Check out more fun and interesting facts about birds in our shoebill and barn owl articles.
What do they prey on?
Spiders, snails, millipedes, earthworms, caterpillars, moths, cicadas, beetles, ants, cockroaches, mice, lizards, and small birds
What do they eat?
Average litter size?
How much do they weigh?
7.8–12.3 oz (220–350 g)
How long are they?
14.5-17 in (37-43 cm)
How tall are they?
What do they look like?
Black and white
What are their main threats?
Humans and predatory animals
What is their conservation status?
Where you'll find them
Grasslands, fields, farmlands, and urban habitats such as golf courses and parks
Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand
Australian Magpie Interesting Facts
What type of animal is an Australian magpie?
The Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is a species of songbirds or perching birds of the order Passeriformes.
What class of animal does an Australian magpie belong to?
Australian magpies are birds belonging to the class Aves.
How many Australian magpies are there in the world?
The global population of Australian magpies has not been quantified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but their numbers are believed to be in abundance.
Where does an Australian magpie live?
The Australian magpie is generally found in open habitats such as grasslands and fields with nearby trees, or a forest.
What is an Australian magpie's habitat?
Australian magpies inhabit open areas that include grasslands, fields, farmlands, and even urban habitats such as golf courses and parks. These birds are also found at farms with pine plantations, gums, and macrocarpas. Even though an Australian magpie walks on the ground in search of food, it builds its nest high up in the trees. The nest of these birds is shaped like a bowl and is made of sticks, internally lined with soft material such as grass or tree bark.
In terms of their geographical distribution, Australian magpies are found throughout most parts of Australia except the southwest of Tasmania, the Great Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert, and the tip of Cape York. These birds are also found in the Trans Fly savannahs and grasslands of southern New Guinea. Australian magpie birds from Victoria and Tasmania were introduced to New Zealand and are found across the North and South Islands. There, the white-backed birds form the majority of the population, and the black-backed ones are only found in North Canterbury and Hawke's Bay.
Who do Australian magpies live with?
Australian magpies live in flocks of up to 25 birds, with the female predominating in number. However, it is usually a male or two that are the dominant individuals in the group. The birds may also occur in flocks or fringe groups. Each group occupies a particular territory all year round and defends the territory for several years, giving much effort and energy in protecting the territory from intruders that mostly include other magpies.
How long does an Australian magpie live?
Australian magpie species are known to live for up to 25 to 30 years.
How do they reproduce?
The breeding season of Australian magpies varies with the geographical location. Magpie species become aggressive during the breeding season and may attack humans or other intruders who go close to their nest. The female magpie builds a bowl-shaped nest in the forks of tall trees where it lays a clutch of two to five eggs. The female incubates the eggs, and after an incubation period that ranges between 20 to 21 days, the chicks are born.
At birth, the chicks are blind and pink, with a bright red throat, a short beak, and large feet. The chicks' eyes open when they are around 10 days old. Unlike the adult birds, the chicks are born naked and fine feathers begin to appear on their body in the first week after birth.
Feeding of the chicks is mostly done by the female, but since these magpies engage in cooperative breeding, other birds of the same species may assist in the rearing and feeding of young magpies. It takes about 30 to 35 days for the juveniles to fledge, and they become fully independent after about 90 days.
What is their conservation status?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, Australian magpies are of Least Concern.
Australian Magpie Fun Facts
What do Australian magpies look like?
Australian magpies have an eerie similarity to crows but are very different from them. These territory-defending birds have a predominantly glossy black and white plumage. Their bills are shaped like a wedge with a bluish-white hue and a blackened tip. Their tail edges have a characteristic black band and their legs are long and black, kind of like a crow, with claws suited for perching.
The shoulders are white, but the head, underparts, and wings are black, with slight differences between the male and the female. The eyes of the adult birds are a dull red in color, and those of the younger ones are somewhat dark brown. In addition, the feathers of the juvenile magpies have streaks of gray and light brown amidst the white and black of the plumage.
These magpies have two subspecies, the black-backed and the white-backed, and they differ in the plumage pattern. While the black-backed magpies have a white nape and black saddle, the white-backed ones' saddle and nape are completely white.
How cute are they?
These magpies from Australia, with their striking combination of white and black feathers, look more elegant than cute.
How do they communicate?
The Australian magpie is also known as the flute bird for all the right reasons as it is a popular songbird in Australia and is known for its wide range of calls. It is particularly famous for its loud musical caroling song 'quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle'. An Australian magpie call is usually performed in a duet, but more birds may join in while they defend their breeding territories. A musical warbling is followed by the caroling, which may have a pitch of 6-8 kHz. When magpies sing, they expand their chests, tilt back their heads, and move their wings backward.
Besides the loud musical carols, these magpies make a variety of other calls, such as beak-clapping as a warning signal and high-pitched rallying calls upon spotting a threat. Juveniles and fledglings emit high-pitched and loud begging calls.
How big is an Australian magpie?
Adult magpies range in length between 14.5-17 in (37-43 cm) and have a wingspan of 25.5–33.5 in (65–85 cm). Australian magpies are slightly larger than a similar species of birds, the pied butcherbird.
How fast can an Australian magpie fly?
While it is not exactly known how fast these magpies can fly, they do attack intruders with a neat swoop.
How much does an Australian magpie weigh?
The average weight of an adult Australian magpie is about 7.8–12.3 oz (220–350 g).
What are their male and female names of the species?
The males and females do not have any specific names.
What would you call a baby Australian magpie?
Baby Australian magpies are called 'chicks', 'fledglings', or 'juveniles'.
What do they eat?
Australian magpies are omnivorous, and they forage on the ground while looking for food. Their diet comprises of mainly invertebrates such as spiders, snails, millipedes, earthworms, and a variety of insects such as caterpillars, moths, cicadas, beetles, ants, cockroaches, and larvae. Occasionally, these magpies also feed on seeds, grains, and larger animals such as mice, lizards, small birds, and their eggs.
Are they dangerous?
Australian magpie swooping season can be particularly dangerous when they get really aggressive and fly close to humans and they may end up biting and pecking your eyes, ears, face, and neck. An Australian magpie attack can inflict serious wounds and cause fatal accidents to pedestrians and cyclists.
Would they make a good pet?
Australian magpies make a good pet and are known for their intelligence, playfulness, and social behavior. However, keeping wild magpies as pets might be a really bad idea due to their sheer aggressive nature and violent attacks.
Did you know...
In winter and spring, Australian magpies perform their carol song after twilight and before dawn.
This magpie has several regional names such as the Yindjibarndi people call it 'warndurla', the Kamilaroi people refer to it as the 'guluu', 'galalu' or 'burrugaabu', and the Wiradjuri people call it 'garoogong' or 'booroogong.'
If trained, the Australian magpies are capable of mimicking human speech.
Despite their aggressive nature, these magpies never attack their own babies but may hunt down nestlings of other species to feed their own.
A group of Australian magpies may be called a 'tiding' or a 'parliament'.
The eggs of these magpies are greenish or light blue in color, oval, and measure about 1.2-1.6 in (30- 40 mm).
This magpie species often raises the young of the channel-billed cuckoo which is a brood parasite.
Australian magpies mostly build their nest atop the pine, eucalyptus, and elm trees.
The barking owl and species of monitor lizards are natural predators of the Australian magpie.
The white-backed magpie has been the official emblem of the Government of South Australia since 1901. This bird also features on the South Australian flag.
How to tell the difference between a male and female Australian magpie?
The plumage of the male magpie is mostly black with a bluish luster. It has white shoulder patches, rump, mantle, and hindneck. The under-tail and most of the upper-tail are also white in males. Females are largely similar, but their black plumage has less of the bluish iridescence, and their mantle is mostly gray. However, both male and female magpies have red eyes and a bluish, white beak with a black tip.
Why do Australian magpies attack?
One of the main reasons behind the Australian magpie attacks is that they try and protect their nestlings from threats and predators.
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