12 Intriguing Australian Magpie Facts

Even though this particular type of bird can be found all around residential areas in their native habitat, some individuals do get a bit cranky during a certain period of the year.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Australian magpie, an intelligent, yet sometimes dangerous bird.

1. These birds are native to 2 different countries

Even the name implies that the Australian magpie is solely native to Australia, these birds are also found in the southern part of New Guinea in the so-called “Trans-Fly region.”

They can be found throughout Australia but not in the Cape York Peninsula, the utmost northern tip of the country. That’s mainly because it consists of a largely unspoiled wilderness area.

These birds prefer grasslands and are commonly found in residential areas. Their favorite habitat includes parks, gardens, streets, and even golf courses. They nest in trees but are otherwise mostly found on the ground in open areas, making them extremely visible.

Female Australian magpie
The amazing bird / Gnangarra / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/au/

2. It’s a member of the Artamidae family and there are 9 subspecies

The Australian magpie is a passerine bird, an order of birds that makes up over half of all the bird species in the world. They are a member of the family Artamidae, a family which features 24 extant species native to Australia, Southern Asia, and the Indo-Pacific region.

The bord is scientifically known as “Gymnorhina tibicen” and it features 9 recognized subspecies. This is remarkable because, throughout the 20th century, only the black-backed magpie (G. Tibicen), the white-backed magpie (G. hypoleuca), and the western magpie (G. dorsalis) were considered to be subspecies.

It’s also not related to the European magpie which is a member of the family Corvidae.

3. It’s a medium-sized bird with distinctive plumage and eyes

Even though the 9 subspecies differ slightly in size and appearance, the distinctive features of these birds are their black and white plumage in combination with a white and partially black bill.

They also have distinctive brown-gold eyes and the males and females look very similar. The only way to differentiate the two is by the markings on their backs which are much whiter in males.

The average length of these birds is anywhere between 37 and 43 centimeters (14.5 and 17 inches) with a wingspan of between 65 and 85 centimeters (25.5 and 33.5 inches). They weigh on average between 220 and 350 grams (7.8 and12.3 oz).

Australian magpie facts
Detail of the distinctive bird / JJ Harrison / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

4. These birds are omnivores with an extremely varied diet

Even though these birds prefer to eat a variety of invertebrates that they can find on the ground such as earthworms, millipedes, snails, spiders, scorpions, and all sorts of insects, these birds are omnivores.

This means that they eat other things as well, including walnuts, figs, and even fruits and vegetables if they can find them lying on the ground.

5. They are infamous for attacking people during breeding season

You don’t need to fear these birds for extended periods of the year, and most definitely not the females. The males, on the other hand, do tend to get a bit aggressive during breeding season as they eagerly attempt to protect their chicks.

The breeding season differs in various parts of Australia, with the birds living in the northern parts starting in June and September. The birds living in the cooler southern parts of Australia don’t breed until August or September.

During this time of the year, the males engage in an activity called “swooping.” This means that they actively engage in attacking humans as they walk by or ride by on their bicycles.

Since these birds are pretty common in residential areas, swooping by Australian magpies is simply part of life in Australia and you can see warning signs everywhere, pretty amazing!

Australian magpie swooping
A magpie ready to swoop / Flagstaffotos / Wiki Commons

More interesting facts about Australian magpies

6. One of the most interesting facts about Australian magpies is that they are extremely talented vocalists. Their range of calls is extensive and complex as well, giving them the ability to mimic about 35 other bird species.

To make this even more intriguing, they are also capable of mimicking other animals such as dogs and even horses. It’s not uncommon that these birds suddenly start producing songs for the sake of it, even when they are accompanied by other birds.

This short video should give you a good idea about their talent:

7. Even though the video above of an Australian magpie singing only lasts less than a minute, they are known to sing for extended periods.

If they’re in the mood they can sing for up to 70 minutes straight. This is most common after the end of the breeding season when they feel they have done a great job to reproduce.

8. These birds were originally introduced in New Zealand as well in the 19th century, but this experiment didn’t turn out to be a success. They were brought here, mainly from Tasmania, to control agricultural pests and therefore received protected status until the year 1951.

They have since been accused of raiding nests of native birds and are now themselves considered to be a pest, chasing away native birds such as the tui and kereru. Little proof has been found to confirm this statement, though.

Australian magpie closeup
Close view of the fascinating bird / Wiki Commons

9. Even though swooping is pretty common in Australia, not all Australian magpies engage in this type of behavior. Some studies have concluded that less than 9% of birds engage in this type of behavior, and over 99% of the birds were males.

They also don’t wander off too far to attack people. In the case of people merely walking by they don’t attack further than 50 meters (164 feet) from their nest. In the case of bicycles, they might attack up to 100 meters (32 feet) away from their nest.

10. Another intriguing fact about Australian magpies is that they can recognize up to 100 different people, which means that these are pretty intelligent birds.

This also means that they don’t attack just anybody. If you gave a male bird some goodies one day, this particular bird will remember it and never attack, simply because they recognize you.

Magpie swooping sign
Magpie swooping sign / Hughes Darren / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

11. Because they mostly roam around on the ground to find food, they have quite a few natural predators to fear. The animals they should fear the most are the barking owl and monitor lizards.

When they leave their chicks unattended, they might be scooped up by the Australian raven, a scavenger that eats a rather large amount of meat for a medium-sized bird.

12. These birds prey on small invertebrates and are capable of catching grasshoppers while flying. They are also known to eat the extremely poisonous cane toad as they only consume the underparts of the frog.

Yes, their diet includes just about anything that crawls in or on the ground, including cockroaches, ants, earwigs, beetles, cicadas, moths, and caterpillars.

Australian magpie eating