Australian Magpie

From Academic Kids

Australian Magpie
Missing image
Black-backed-Magpie-215.jpg



Black-backed Magpie,
northern South Australia.
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Aves
Order:Passeriformes
Family:Artamidae
Genus:Gymnorhina
Species:tibicen
Binomial name
Gymnorhina tibicen
(Latham, 1802)

The Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is a medium-sized black and white bird, closely related to the butcherbirds and currawongs. Early European settlers named it for its resemblance to the familiar European Magpie (which is a more distant relative).

Australian Magpies have a musical warbling call of extraordinary beauty. Noted New Zealand poet Denis Glover wrote "quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle, the magpies say". In contrast, young magpies screech and squawk almost continuously. Adult magpies have pure black and white plumage: juveniles mix the stark blacks and whites with lighter greys.

There are at least four different subspecies of Australian magpie:

  • The Black-backed Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen tibicen) found in Queensland and New South Wales, right across the Top End and most of arid Western Australia. In the future the black-backed race may be further split into four separate races, as there are regional differences between them.
  • The White-backed Magpie (G. tibicen leuconata) found in Victoria, South Australia, and outback NSW.
  • The Tasmanian Magpie (G. tibicen hypoleuca).
  • The Western Magpie (G. tibicen dorsalis) in the fertile south-west corner of Western Australia.

At least two of the races were originally classified as separate species, but they are cross-fertile and hybridise readily. Where their territories cross, hybrid grey or striped-backed magpies are quite common.

Magpies mate across the year, but generally in winter. Nesting takes place in winter and spring is the season when the babies are looked after. By late summer the babies either make their own clan or separate from their parents whilst staying in the same clan.

The magpie is a commonly-used emblem of sporting teams in Australia, most notably the Collingwood Football Club.

Magpies were introduced into New Zealand in the 1860's and are proving to be a pest by displacing native birds.

Missing image
Australian-Magpie-314.jpg
White-backed Magpie, southern Victoria.

Swooping

Magpies tend not to be afraid of people, and they live in urban areas as often as in the bush, so magpies are a familiar sight to most Australians, and their melodic song is widely enjoyed. However, if magpies feel threatened while nesting (typically in August-September in southern Australia), even by an inadvertent intrusion into their territory, they will often swoop at the intruder in an attempt to drive them away. Magpies generally swoop from behind, and without warning, so attacks can be somewhat terrifying, particularly to children. For this reason, local authorities sometimes post warning signs during "swooping season", particularly in urban parks. Magpie attacks sometimes cause injuries, typically minor wounds to the scalp: however, this is uncommon. Cyclists can also be at risk, as they are unable to discourage the attack by turning to face the swooping bird: an attack may cause a cyclist to fall off or change course unexpectedly in traffic.

To avoid swooping attacks, the best course is to avoid the territory of nesting magpies during the relatively brief nesting season (magpies ignore people for most of the year). It is illegal to provoke magpies (by throwing stones at them or destroying nests) as it is likely to make them more aggressive and they are a protected native species.

If it is necessary to walk near the nest, some people prefer to wear protection. Magpies prefer to swoop at the back of the head. Therefore keeping the magpie in sight at all times can discourage the bird. Using a basic disguise to fool the magpie as to where a person is looking (like painting eyes on a hat, or wearing sunglasses on the back of the head) can also prove effective. Rarely, if a bird presents a serious nuisance the local authorities will arrange for that bird to be eliminated.

References

  • Page on swooping birds (http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/dse/nrenpa.nsf/LinkView/838467C25F04F89BCA256C2100166A833882F6D25A5CBF6CCA256C290005F61B) by the Victorian Government Department of Sustainability and Environment
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