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22

Australian Magpie

([Gymnorhina] Cracticus tibicen)
Alternate name(s): "Flute Bird", "Piping Crow-shrike"
(includes "Black-backed Magpie" and "White-backed Magpie")
Aboriginal name(s): "koora", "barrawarn", "bilinga", "carrak", "coorabie", "curruk"; Race "tibicen": "burrugaabu" [gamilaraay];
Race "terraereginae": "burrugarrbuu" [yuwaalaraay];
Race "dorsalis": "koorbat", "koorbardi", "koorbardo", "parwan"

Size: 37-44 cm; wing span 65-85 cm
Weight: 220-350 g

Similar species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Australian Magpie at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Race "tibicen"

Not the photos you want? Or are you after even better quality? Have a look here .

This race is one of the races collectively called "Black-backed Magpie".

ADULT

MALE

Near-frontal view of a male Australian Magpie
[Near Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

The same male Australian Magpie as above, now accompanied by a Noisy Miner
[Near Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

FEMALE

Portrait of a curious female Australian Magpie ("tibicen")
[Near Narrabri, NSW, 2004]

Different frontal perspective of a female Australian Magpie
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2011]

Lateral view of a female Australian Magpie on our lawn
[Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2011]

Dorsal view of the same female Australian Magpie as shown above
[Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2011]

Here a female Australian Magpie straight out of the bathtub
[Eulah Creek, NSW, July 2010]

Australian Magpie in flight, seen from underneath
[Old Bar, NSW, July 2013]

Admittedly, the bird is difficult to see, but this is the bird's intention - Australian Magpies roost in dense foliage of tall trees such as this eucalypt; the bird was about 8 m high and almost invisible; the light-blue dot is its eye reflecting some of the flash's light - without having seen where this bird and its partner settled in for the night we would not have been able to find them
[Eulah Creek, NSW, July 2011]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Close-up frontal view of an juvenile Australian Magpie waiting to be fed (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Central Coast, QLD, October 2013]

Frontal view of an immature, probably female, Australian Magpie
[Eulah Creek, NSW, April 2007]

Near-lateral view of an immature male Australian Magpie
[Eulah Creek, NSW, April 2011]

Near-lateral view of an immature, probably female, Australian Magpie foraging in grass
[Eulah Creek, NSW, April 2007]

Lateral view of a juvenile Australian Magpie (note the pink gape)
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2016]

Two youngster Australian Magpies following one of their parents, begging for food
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2010]

Lateral view of a fledgling Australian Magpie
[Near Maules Creek, NSW, 2006]

Near-dorsal view of a fledgling Australian Magpie; this bird and one of its siblings were out of the nest, while a third chick was still inside
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2015]

Race "terraereginae"

This race is one of the races collectively called "Black-backed Magpie".

ADULT

MALE

Lateral view of a male Australian Magpie (photo courtesy of D. Wilczynska)
[Yulara, NT, March 2015]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Portrait of an immature, probably female, Australian Magpie
[Near Hawker, SA, March 2008]

Near-lateral view of an immature, probably female, Australian Magpie
[Near Hawker, SA, March 2008]

Race "eylandtensis"

This race is one of the races collectively called "Black-backed Magpie".

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Frontal view of an immature Australian Magpie (photo courtesy of J. Thurmer)
[Near Katherine, NT, July 2012]

Lateral view of an immature Australian Magpie (photo courtesy of J. Thurmer)
[Near Katherine, NT, July 2012]

Race "tyrannica"

This race is one of the races collectively called "White-backed Magpie".

ADULT

FEMALE

View of the back of a female Australian Magpie "tyrannica" (photo courtesy of C. Kellenberg)
[Lakes National Park, VIC, March 2009]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

View of the back of an immature female Australian Magpie "tyrannica" (photo courtesy of C. Kellenberg)
[Lakes National Park, VIC, March 2009]

Juvenile Australian Magpie "tyrannica" in flight (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Ensay South, East Gippsland, VIC, January 2017]

Race "dorsalis"

This race is one of the races collectively called "White-backed Magpie".

ADULT

MALE

Pair of Australian Magpies, race "dorsalis", taking a sunbath - male in front, female behind (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[East Perth, WA, December 2014]

FEMALE

Dorsal view of a pair of Australian Magpies, race "dorsalis", taking a sunbath - male on the right, female on the left (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[East Perth, WA, December 2014]

Leucistic Australian Magpies

Lateral and dorsal views of a leucistic Australian Magpie "dorsalis"; only small patches on the bird's wings are grey, the rest is white (photos courtesy of G. Harris)
[Esperance, WA, October 2012]

The photos below of a leucistic Australian Magpie "tyrannica" (in which part of the colour pigments are white instead of their usual colour) were kindly contributed by D. Pope.

Close-up lateral view of a leucistic Australian Magpie "tyrannica" (photo courtesy of D. Pope); with the speckled neck it is difficult to tell whether the bird is male or female
[Beechworth, VIC, August 2012]

Lateral view of a leucistic Australian Magpie "tyrannica" (photo courtesy of D. Pope)
[Beechworth, VIC, August 2012]

The photos below of a leucistic Australian Magpie, race "tibicen" were kindly provided by E. Ormerod.

Frontal view of a leucistic Australian Magpie "tibicen"; note that the bird is also sick with pox virus(?) (photo courtesy of E. Ormerod)
[New Lambden Heights, Newcastle, NSW, June 2014]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Lateral view of two juvenile sibling Australian Magpies, race "tibicen"; the bird on the right has normal colours, the one on the left is leucistic (photo courtesy of E. Ormerod)
[New Lambden Heights, Newcastle, NSW, June 2014]

Race "telonocua"

This race is one of the races collectively called "White-backed Magpie".

ADULT

MALE

Lateral view of a male Australian Magpie "telonocua" (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Karatta, Kangaroo Island, SA, March 2016]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Aug - Oct Eggs: 3 - 5 Incubation period: 20 days Fledging age: 28 days

Although Australian Magpies can have clutches of up to 6 eggs, we have not seen a family yet that raised more than 2 chicks to adulthood.

Australian Magpies, especially females (who incubate the eggs and carry most of the responsibility for caring for the chicks), are very protective of their nests.

Twitcher's tip

Usually any Australian Magpie swooping close to its nest is a female. To deter it from coming up from behind you it may help to put sunglasses on the wrong way round - this way the bird will think that you are looking at it; and it won't attack from the front (they are too clever to do that!).

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Basket Material: Sticks, with grass and/or feather lining Height above ground: 5 - 20 m

Additional information

Some bird species, such as e.g. Little Friarbirds, Striped Honeyeaters, Willie Wagtails and Magpie-larks, like to take advantage of the protection offered by nesting under an Australian Magpie nest. There is now a separate page about various bird species nesting under the umbrella of a stronger, protective species.

Australian Magpie looking after its chicks
[Near Wee Waa, NSW, September 2012]

Australian Magpie on the edge of its nest
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2007]

The same Australian Mapgie as above, diving towards the destination of its next foraging expedition
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2007]

Fledgling Australian Mapgie that has fled its nest, four weeks later
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, October 2007]

Closer view of an Australian Magpie's nest

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 38 x 25 mm Colour: Olive-green, with irregular brown pattern Shape: Tapered oval

Fragments of an Australian Magpie egg found not far from a nest; this eggshell, which looks as if opened by the hatchling, was found around the time of the arrival of the large, migratory cuckoos, who won't get a chance to cheat this pair of "Maggies"...

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Sedentary Elementary unit: Pair/family clan

Every attempt by us to describe the behavioural patterns of Australian Magpies would be preposterous, considering that there is the very enlightening book "Australian Magpie" by Gisela Kaplan (CSIRO Publishing). But a bit more local "gossip" can be added.

At our former home, 20 km South of Narrabri, Australian Magpies were winter guests, because during summertime they are hustled into the bush by the local Willie Wagtails.

A family of "Maggies" were residents at Eulah Creek, 20 km east of Narrabri in 2007 and subsequent years since then (sharing their territory with Willie Wagtails).

It may be noteworthy that, apart from some parrots and cockatoos, Australian Magpies are one of the few bird species known to us that show playful behaviour (immature birds; see photo below).

At Eulah Creek, 20 km east of Narrabri, where there are plenty of suitable trees around for nesting, the local pair of Australian Magpies will not allow any Australian Ravens around their nest. However, on a broadacre farm near Bellata, NSW, where there is only one suitable tree within kilometers, Australian Magpies nest in the same tree as Australian Ravens.

Two immature Australian Magpies playing with each other, much in the same way as two dog pups would, while the parents are keeping an eye on the surroundings
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2006]

This male Australian Magpie is taking a shower
[Eulah Creek, NSW, March 2013]

Here a female Australian Magpie is drying its plumage in the sun
[Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2011]

The exact-same place, 2 years later, the same female Australian Magpie(?) drying its plumage in the sun
[Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2013]

The same female Australian Magpie as in the previous photo, now drying the other side
[Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2013]

Australian Magpies are fiercely territorial birds that we have seen chasing and hustling various other bird species. In 2007, the local Australian Magpies in the Narrabri area started swooping on people coming too close to their nesting trees around August - a good indication that their breeding season had begun.

Female Australian Magpie warbling
[Eulah Creek, NSW, March 2013]

We have seen an Australian Raven hustle an Australian Magpie, stealing its prey in flight. When the Magpie let go of the small lizard it had caught, the Australian Raven scooped it up in mid-air and then flew to a nearby tree to pluck it apart while sitting on a horizontal branch. However, during the Australian Magpies' nesting season, the chase is on the other way round.

Australian Magpies sometimes have a go at Crested Pigeons (with what we took to be intent to kill; we have also once seen a Magpie plucking a Crested Pigeon). Also seen by us hustling whole family clans of White-winged Choughs.

This Australian Magpie is not afraid to defend its territory against a fox
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2011]

Fledgling Australian Magpie face-down flat on the ground, with both wings at full stretch - the significance of this behaviour is not known to us
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2011]

The same behaviour of two immature Australian Magpies was observed by A. Ross-Taylor
[Pacific Pines, Gold Coast, QLD]

It is known that birds can cool off with their wings spread above moist soil, but this Australian Magpie demonstrates that it also knows how to use the heat of roof tiles to warm up on a winter's day (photo courtesy of J. Ross-Taylor)
[Ashmore, Gold Coast, QLD, August 2015]

This male Australian Magpie is posturing (possibly to establish his supremacy), with his partner on her back, on the ground
[Eulah Creek, NSW, April 2014]

We have observed flocks of non-breeding Australian Magpies up to about 60 birds strong.

Additional information

There is a separate page describing how a female is fed by a male bird at the start of the nesting season.

Additional information

There is a separate page describing how an Australian Magpie attacks a Wedge-tailed Eagle near its nest site during its breeding season.

Food, Diet

Australian Magpies feed mostly on insects up to the size of locusts. However, we have also seen them take fruit (e.g. mulberries) and pluck birds as large as a Crested Pigeon.

Male Australian Magpie with its prey, a spider
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2008]

Here a female Australian Magpie with its catch (which looks like a spider)
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2011]

This female Australian Magpie has caught something bigger (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Gold Coast, QLD, November 2011]

A few mulberries are treats for fledgling Australian Magpies
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2010]

This female Australian Magpie clearly knows how to pry the soft dough out of the hard crust (photo courtesy of J. Ross-Taylor)
[Ashmore, Gold Coast, QLD, March 2015]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

magpie_20170802_2.m4a tibicen
(NW NSW)
Contact call ("warble") © MD
magpie_art_20131209.mp3 tibicen
(SE QLD)
Contact call ("warble") © ART
magpie_20140310_2.mp3 tibicen
(NW NSW)
Warning call (pair) © MD
magpie_20170802_4.m4a tibicen
(NW NSW)
Warning/departure © MD
magpie_20170802_3.m4a tibicen
(NW NSW)
Suspicious/warning © MD
magpie_20140310.mp3 tibicen
(NW NSW)
Anxious (pair) © MD
magpie_20140627.mp3 tibicen
(NW NSW)
Upset © MD
magpie_20140928_2.mp3 tibicen
(NW NSW)
Singing in the bathtub © MD
magpie_20150414_2.mp3 tibicen
(NW NSW)
Immature practising warble © MD
magpie_20171027.m4a tibicen
(NW NSW)
Begging calls (2 juveniles) © MD
Click here for more recordings

We have also recorded Australian Magpies' wing beats.

magpie_20140404_4.mp3 tibicen
(NW NSW)
Arrival, with "warble" © MD
magpie_20140404.mp3 tibicen
(NW NSW)
Arrival, with "warble" © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

Would you like to contribute photos or sound recordings to this site?
If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.