Australian Magpie

Cracticus tibicen

Australian Magpies belong to the Corvidae family which also include Butcherbirds and Currawongs. They are widely considered to be intelligent creatures.  They are found wherever there is a combination of trees and adjacent open areas, including parks and playing fields. They are absent only from the densest forests and arid deserts

Breeding

   Breeding takes place from June till December. The nests are constructed in the outer branches of a tree, up to 15 m above the ground and made of sticks and stems, and sadly in suburbia often with bits of plastic, string or wire, lined with grass and hair.

The eggs take about 20 days to hatch, and the young will spend approximately 4 weeks in the nest before they leave. The nest is the most dangerous place for a juvenile bird, as predators can easily find them, so the parent birds will encourage the young to leave as soon as possible. They will leave the nest before being able to fly; they will flutter from bush to bush being fed by the parents. You will usually hear them being very noisy at this particular time of the year, as they beg for food from exhausted parents. They will reuse the nest year after year doing repair work every new season.

Magpies are great visitors to your garden; they forage on the ground, turning over loose material, as they search for a range of insects, worms, spiders, lizards, mice and seeds. A favourite food is the scarab beetle which does so much damage to lawns, so please consider if you spray for insects, you may inadvertently poison your natural pest control being birds like Magpies.

Swooping Magpies

For a few weeks each year during breeding season, nesting Magpies defend their territory to protect their young.

They beat their wings, clack their beaks, swoop upon perceived intruders.

During this period the natural behaviour of the male magpie is to protect their young from what they see as threats. Male magpies demonstrate defensive behaviour only when they have eggs or chicks in the nest and this usually lasts from 4 – 6 weeks. Most magpies are giving us a warning and rarely cause harm. Research suggests only 10% of male magpies actually swoop. The recent tragic accident in Brisbane that was triggered by a swooping magpie is heartbreaking.

Strategies to avoid being swooped include:

  • During breeding season, avoid the area where the magpies are nesting
  • If you see a warning sign, walk a slightly different route
  • Avoid approaching or trying to look into the nest and avoid making eye contact
  • Wear a hat and glasses or use an umbrella while in the area
  • Respect their warning signals and move further away
  • Don’t behave aggressively towards magpies by waving sticks or throwing stones as this only reinforces their perception of humans as threats
  • Cyclists should dismount and walk their bike away (most cyclist injuries result from trying to avoid the magpies)
  • Stay calm

If you need help with magpies most local councils have magpie policies in place. In some areas your local council, NPWS and WIRES collaborate to put warning signs up in problem areas. There is also an independent website Magpie Alert where locations of magpie attacks are recorded. This is a national data base submitted by the readers.

The majority of Australian Magpies are not dangerous and outside of nesting season they are friendly visitors to our garden and help in pest control, eating a variety of insects and pests. When they are being protective parents we need to show them respect, be cautious and find a way to live in harmony.

The majority of Australian Magpies are not dangerous and outside of nesting season they are friendly visitors to our garden and help in pest control, eating a variety of insects and pests. When they are being protective parents we need to show them respect, be cautious and find a way to live in harmony.

Do not be tempted to feed wild birds, the natural balance is easily upset, instead place a bird bath in your garden, and remember to change the water regularly to minimise the chance if decease.