Skip to main content

Habitat Ecology Information

Whats Lurking In Your Backyard? – #3 Australian Magpie

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#3 Australian Magpie
(Cracticus tibicen)

No this is not an AFL football supporter but one of Australia’s most recognized birds. The Australian Magpie or Magpie as it is commonly called can be found throughout Australia and inhabits areas were there are trees in conjunction with open areas, such as open forests and parks and reserves. Due to this habitat preference they are absent from the dense forests and arid regions of Australia.

Magpie’s plumage varies slightly across Australia with those in some parts of having a white back and rump. The call of the Magpie is reputedly one of the most complex in the world which sound like a loud musical flute like call, often performed in groups.

Magpies are a territorial species living in groups of often up to 24 birds, with all members actively defending their territory. Breeding usually occurs between August to November, with nests made from sticks and twigs, lined with hair or grass. It is not uncommon to find nests, which have quantities of wire woven into them. It is during the breeding season that most people come into direct contact with the Magpie as it swoops people and pets that come to close to nest sites. The link below provides some advice about swooping birds.

Two species are similar to the Magpie these being the Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) and the Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca). The Pied Butcherbird differs in having a black head and bib separated from the black back by a complete white collar, and white underparts, whilst the Magpie-lark is smaller than the Magpie with a slighter build.

Feeding of Magpies is a common practice, as birds become habitualised to people, however this can lead to various health issues as the food supplied is usually processed and can result in birds becoming sick or developing deformities due to nutrient deficiencies. Birds may also become dependent on this food source resulting in problems when the food is no longer available or aggressive when seeking out food. Hand feeding or supplementary feeding of wild birds may actually endanger healthy birds through the transmission of diseases to the wild population.

© Habitat Ecology 2012