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.
The Pied Butcherbird, Cracticus nigrogularis, can be distinguished from the Australian Magpie by its black head and bib separated from the black back by a complete white collar, and white underparts. It is also a smaller species. The Australian Magpie is larger and has a heavier bill than the similarly coloured Magpie-lark, Grallina cyanoleuca
Though they have similarity in features with the crow, the Australian Magpies are most closely related to the black butcherbird. Also, despite similarity in names, they have no genetic connection with the European magpie, which, unlike the Australian Magpie, is a corvid.
The length of these birds is 37 to 43 cm (14.5–17 in) with a wingspan of 65–85 cm (26–33 in).
These magpies weigh between 220 and 350 grams (8–12 oz).
The black and white feather is one of their prime characteristics, though the pattern differs across its range. In the males, the shoulder, nape, and upper tail are white, whereas they are dull to grey in the females (marking their gender differences or, sexual dimorphism).
The rest of the body is black. In the extreme south-west, south-east, central Australia, and in Tasmania, the rump part and the back are completely white.
Feet are clawed, and can grab hold the prey firmly.
The eyes are chestnut brown to reddish, and are bead-like, with the visibly black cornea in the middle.
The bills are blue-grey and somewhat wedge-shaped and strong, which assist the bird in gripping the prey.
The legs are completely black.
The life expectancy of the Australian magpie is normally up to 25 years. However, the recorded longevity is 30 years
The Australian magpie is found in southern New Guinea’s Trans-Fly region, between the Princess Mariane Strait and the Oriomo River, and across most parts of the continent of Australia.
White-backed forms are found on both the North and eastern South Island, and the black-backed birds are found in the Hawke’s Bay region.
Australian Magpies are spread across areas, wherever they find a combination of tress along with adjacent open areas, which includes playing fields, parks, etc. However, these birds avoid the regions covered by densest vegetation or forests, and even the arid regions of the deserts. See also: Birds Habitat.
There are nine distinct varieties (sub-species) of these birds. The Australian Magpies do not migrate in the sense of whole populations traveling long distances, but independent groups can move from place to place locally.
The first four in the following are the sub-species of the ‘black-backed’ Australian Magpie, while the rest belong to the ‘white-backed’ type:
Australian Magpies are exclusively diurnal, and are heard carolling in the morning. They have a complex social structure, and would usually move around in flocks.
Though the group can just consist of a pair, or a small family, it might as well reach up to 20 members or more. These birds have a considerable level of intelligence, and will form groups and spend a lot of time smartly defending their territories. Defending a common territory from other groups of magpies is their primary intention.
Nest in a banksia tree. Magpies have a long breeding season which varies in different parts of the country; in northern parts of Australia they will breed between June and September, but not commence until August or September in cooler regions, and may continue until January in some alpine areas.The nest is a bowl-shaped structure made of sticks and lined with softer material such as grass and bark.
Near human habitation, synthetic material may be incorporated. Nests are built exclusively by females and generally placed high up in a tree fork, often in an exposed position. The trees used are most commonly eucalypts, although a variety of other native trees as well as introduced pine, Crataegus, and elm have been recorded. Other bird species, such as the yellow-rumped thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa), willie wagtail(Rhipidura leucophrys), southern whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis), and (less commonly) noisy miner (Manorina melanocephala), often nest in the same tree as the magpie.
The first two species may even locate their nest directly beneath a magpie nest, while the diminutive striated pardalote (Pardalotus striatus) has been known to make a burrow for breeding into the base of the magpie nest itself. These incursions are all tolerated by the magpies.The channel-billed cuckoo (Scythrops novaehollandiae) is a notable brood parasite in eastern Australia; magpies will raise cuckoo young, which eventually outcompete the magpie nestlings.
Breeding magpies hold a territory of about five hectares (12 acres) all year round. Because nest sites are limited, between 25 per cent and 60 per cent of magpies in an area do not breed. These non-breeding birds often form flocks with a home range of up to 20 hectares (about 50 acres) and may pair up within the flock.
Magpies usually breed from two years old, although some may breed at one year. They build large, domed nests in thorny bushes or high up in tall trees.The female lays on average six greenish-blue eggs, heavily spotted with brown, in April, and incubates them for 18 to 19 days. During this time the male feeds her on the nest. Incubation starts in the middle of the laying period, so the earliest eggs hatch first.
Both parents feed the young. If the food supply is poor, the stronger, older nestlings will get all of it. This helps to ensure that at least some of them survive. They fledge after 26 to 30 days, and are fed by the parents for a further four weeks after leaving the nest.
The young birds stay in the parents’ territory until September or October, when they form loose flocks, feeding and roosting together. During the winter, flocks may join to form large winter roosts.
Some breeding birds may also join these roosts.The months following fledging are a dangerous time for young magpies, with a high percentage failing to make it through the first year. If the young birds survive to breed, their average life expectancy is around three years. Some live much longer than this, with the oldest recorded being more than 21 years old.
Western magpie female (note scalloped back) collecting nesting material. The Australian magpie produces a clutch of two to five light blue or greenish eggs, which are oval in shape and about 30 by 40 mm (1.2 by 1.6 in)
The chicks hatch synchronously around 20 days after incubation begins; like all passerines, the chicks are altricial—they are born pink, naked, and blind with large feet, a short broad beak and a bright red throat.
Their eyes are fully open at around 10 days. Chicks develop fine downy feathers on their head, back and wings in the first week, and pinfeathers in the second week. The black and white coloration is noticeable from an early stage.Nestlings are fed exclusively by the female, though the male magpie will feed his partner.
The Australian magpie is known to engage in cooperative breeding, and helper birds will assist in feeding and raising young. This does vary from region to region, and with the size of the group—the behaviour is rare or non-existent in pairs or small groups. Magpies have a strong bill with a sharp cutting edge, which can be used for cutting flesh, digging up invertebrates, or picking fruit.
Their main diet in summer is grassland invertebrates, such as beetles, flies, caterpillars, spiders, worms and leather jackets. In winter, they eat more plant material, such as wild fruits, berries and grains, with household scraps and food scavenged from bird tables or chicken runs, pet foods etc. They will eat carrion at all times and catch small mammals and birds. Occasionally, magpies prey on larger animals such as young rabbits.
During the breeding season they will take eggs and young of other birds. We don’t know exactly what proportion of the summer diet of urban and suburban magpies these comprise: estimates vary between 3 per cent and 38 per cent by weight, although most estimates are at the low end of this scale.
Studies of urban magpies in Manchester showed a summer diet mostly of invertebrates with some field voles and house sparrows .When food is abundant, magpies hoard the surplus to eat later. They make a small hole in the ground with their beak, place the food in it and cover it with grass, a stone or a leaf. These caches are spread around their territory or home range. Check this article also: Foods and Treats For Bird
The striking black-and-white, black-billed magpie is native to western North America. These conspicuous birds inhabit both rural and urban areas.
Magpies are omnivorous and feed on fruit and grain, but also prey on bats, mice, frogs, snakes and rabbits. Magpies also actively hunt for the nestlings of other birds to feed their own babies during the breeding season. These beautifully colored birds are highly intelligent and make for interesting pets.
Provide your magpie with a cage which is at least 4 square feet.
Magpies have a reputation as thieves out to steal your shiny jewelry or take ornaments from your garden, but new research shows that flashy objects probably repel magpies.
The myth seems to have built up without much science to back it up, but the truth could actually be useful.
Magpies are capable of wrecking crops by digging for grain, berries and other food, so along with other bird-scaring measures, placing shiny materials in fields might deter magpies and keep crops safe from being upturned and trampled.
While their natural diet is quite broad — including insects, small rodents, grain and berries – magpies have been known to steal other birds’ eggs, and even young chicks.
In addition, magpies have adapted rather well to suburban living, so they’ll often eat leftover food scraps. But it’s better to provide them with proper bird food to ensure they don’t eat anything poisonous.
Though they may look quite a bit different at first glance, magpies belong to the bird family Corvidae, a group that includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws and jays, as well as lesser recognized members like treepies, choughs and nutcrackers.
As such, magpies are among the most intelligent family of birds recognized by modern science.
European magpies have demonstrated the remarkable ability to recognize their own reflections in mirrors, something that was once thought to be a defining characteristic belonging only to humans.
This might not sound that amazing, but out of countless species tested, only four ape species, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants have demonstrated this ability.Scientists tested the magpies by placing a colored mark on their necks — which did not hurt or cause skin irritation.
Then when placed in a cage with several mirrors, the birds were filmed scratching at their necks after looking at their reflections. With all other controls in place, this could only mean that magpies had recognized themselves in the mirrors. And not just that, the birds had differentiated between their normal physical state and their now-marked plumage.
There are several names given to a group of magpies, but perhaps the most descriptive is “a parliament.” The birds have earned this title from often appearing in large groups in the spring, looking stately and cawing at each other.
A final fascinating fact relates to one of the defining features of a magpie. While they share some similarities with their corvid family, the magpies possess an extremely long tail.
In fact, a magpie’s tail is often roughly the same length as its entire body.
Why magpies have such long tails remains up for debate, but it may provide magpies with the ability to make swift turns while in the air. This would allow the birds to evade larger predators and make up for rather average flying abilities.