Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

''Black-backed Magpie,
northern South Australia''.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Binomial name
Gymnorhina tibicen
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.

White-backed Magpie, southern Victoria.

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. If magpies are teased or feel threatened while nesting (typically in August-September in southern Australia), they will 'swoop' at their aggressor with their claws extended in an attempt to drive them away. This behaviour has led some people to see magpies as dangerous birds, but they are merely attempting to defend themselves.

The Collingwood Football Club, has taken the magpie as its mascot.

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