The Australian Magpie is a medium-sized bird that is native to Australia and southern New Guinea. They are closely related to butcherbirds, and are member of the Artamidae.
The watchful eye of the magpie
They are famous for their black and white plumage. Adult Australian Magpies are fairly robust, and are between 37 to 43 cm long. They also have red eyes, and a wedge-shaped bill that is bluish-white in colour. Both males and females look similar in appearance, but they can be distinguished by the markings on their back. They also have long legs, therefore walks on the ground instead of hopping like other birds. These long legs have enabled the Australian Magpie to spend a lot of time on the ground, which is why many authorities state it has its own genus called Gymnorhina.
This bird is omnivorous, however most of its diet consists of invertebrates. It it terrotirial throughout its range. They are also very common and widespread, as Australian Magpies have adapted well to human habitats. It is found in many parks, gardens, and farmlands throughout both Australia and New Guinea. In the 1860’s, this bird was introduced into New Zealand. However, it has proved to be a pest as it has displaced many native birds. Fortunately, when the Australian Magpie was introduced into Fiji and the Solomon Islands, they did not become an invasive species or a pest.
In Australia, spring time is known as magpie season. This is when a small minority of breeding Australian Magpies (usually males) become aggressive by swooping and attacking humans who approach their nests, such as bike riders or walkers.
This bird species is commonly fed by households around Australia, and is the mascot of several sports teams. These teams tend to wear uniforms that have black and white stripes. The Collingwood Football Club adopted the Magpie from a visiting team from South Australia in 1892, called the Port Adelaide Magpies. There are also the Western Suburbs Magpies in Sydney as well as the South Logan Magpies in Brisbane. Outside of Australia, The Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union team from Napier in New Zealand are also known as the magpies.
A magpie and a kookaburra fighting
It also features in the Yindjibarndi people in the Pilbara region of north-west Australia. It is known by Yindjibarndi folklore as being a signal for sunrise, frightening them awake with its melodic call. As they are known for its highly territorial nature, they feature in their songs of customs (or ‘Burndud’). It was also used as a totem bird by the people in the Illawara region, which is south of Sydney.
The White-backed Magpie was declared the official state emblem by the Government of South Australia by Governor Tennyson in 1901. It has featured on South Australia’s flag since 1904.
In New Zealand, it has featured in popular culture. The comic, Footrot Flats, features a magpie character called Pew. They also have a well known poem called The Magpies by Denis glover which features a refrain that imitates the sound of the Australian Magpie.