The Australian Magpie was first described by an English ornithologist in 1801 in the Sydney area. Named after the European Magpie because of the shared black and white plumage, the European birds however, share no relationship with our maggies.
Currently there is believed be nine subspecies of magpies and their territories can overlap. Some hybridization has been noted between subspecies.
Often voted Australia’s most popular bird, their beautiful song, tameness and intelligence are generally appreciated. Occasionally though, over aggressive parents, in protecting their nests can make people’s lives miserable as the go about their lawful business. Pets, kids on bikes and cyclists seem to attract their wrath most. Recently a man was killed as he sought to avoid a magpie attack and hit a tree. In Sydney, a notorious magpie with over 40 complaints against him, was shot to protect the lives of locals.
The magpie’s song is legendary and the sound of a magpie calling on a clear full moon night is poetic. One often sees groups gathered on roadsides, carolling their defiant song as they advertise their territories to a rival clan.
Feeding primarily on insects, worms, grubs and seeds, they offer a benefit to our gardens and the supply of watering points can insure that they are happy. Rarely attacking local people, it is beneficial to befriend the local magpie. Many people like to offer beef mice to magpies but it lacks the vital nutrients and calcium that they require. One solution is the addition of Wombaroo Insectivore powder, readily available at the pet shops, it provides the protein and nutrients for a balanced diet.
At this time of year, many baby magpies are brought in needlessly to Wildlife rescue groups. The sight of a lone baby can trigger a rescue mentality but the truth is that mostly, the parents are aware of the baby’s location. This year, with the dry weather biting, some magpies have jumped the nest early. It is good practice to move the baby to a safer location, under a bush or in a shrub or in a makeshift nest such as a basket or icecream container with grass in it, up away from local cats and observe the baby to see if the parents come to it. Doing this first, before removal from its territory, avoid the issue of trying to reintroduce a baby to another territory at a later date.
There is some evidence of siblings from a previous clutch, feeding the current brood, all in all , magpies are a fascinating bird.
By Chris Baker
Originally published in Uralla Wordsworth