Birdata Species in Focus: Australian Magpie

One of the most widespread and common Australian birds, you will find Australian Magpies in almost every habitat in Australia. In fact you probably already share your space with a few of them or see them within 100m of your home. But what are the features they look for in a garden and what can you do to make friends with your Australian Magpie neighbours, especially ahead of swooping season? Our Birds in Backyards surveys have given us some insight...


The Australian Magpie is black and white, but the plumage pattern varies across its range. Its neck (nape), upper tail and shoulder are white in males, grey in females. Across most of Australia, the remainder of the body is black. In the south-east, centre, extreme south-west and Tasmania, the back and rump are entirely white. The eye of adult birds is chestnut brown. It can sometimes be mistaken for other black and white birds like Magpie-larks, Pied Currawongs and Butcherbirds. However their white beak and brown eye is distinctive to Australian Magpies.


Features of Garden Habitats

They have been consistently one of the most common birds recorded in the Birds in Backyards surveys, in fact in across the whole 18 years of surveys, they are the most common bird seen, being reported in 50% of surveys and with an average of 2251 sightings per month. We tend to see peaks of Magpie activity unsurprisingly during the height of their breeding season, September and October.

They are a bird that does well in urban spaces for a few reasons. Firstly, they eat a range of foods. We classify them as 'insectivores' but really they will eat just about any invertebrate but also small mammals, reptiles and frogs as well. And of course they are a favourite bird for people to feed because of their friendly and inquistive nature (a note though, items like bread and mince are not good for them. Check out our feeding info sheet for more).

Secondly, the type of habitat they like it what is most commonly found in our parks and gardens - tall trees and open lawn. Unsurprisingly, analysis of our Birds in Backyards surveys showed this holding true. Gardens that had between 25-50% tree cover (so some trees but not an entire yard full) and a lot of open lawn space were more likely to have Australian Magpies in them. They were less likely to be found in gardens though where the trees were not native. We also saw them more often in gardens where a bird bath was provided and filled regularly. They love having a splash around! And if you feed birds, gardens were meat was provided was more likely to have Australian Magpies visiting. They love a feed. Note though, feeding birds, particularly meat-eaters, can cause problems for the birds themselves. Check out our guides for more info.


Magpies and other Species

Australian Magpies are often associated with other birds. Of the 8 other species we have done this detailed analysis for, 4 were more likely to be seen in gardens with Australian Magpies present in them - the Superb Fairy-wren, Silvereye, New Holland Honeyeater and Australian King-Parrot. The results are not clearly linked to any particular garden characteristic (such as tree cover) for the most part, although Red-browed Finches and Superb Fairy-wrens both also showed a love of bird baths.



Of course Australian Magpies are best known for their swooping behaviour, and we see their presence in surveys increase during September and October, their peak breeding season. 

In the case of Magpies, it is the males that do the swooping. Magpies are one of our most common Australian birds, found across almost all of the country and in most habitats but especially fond of our towns and cities. Thankfully not all males take part in this behaviour. In fact, less than 10% do, and Tasmanians have it lucky, Tassie Magpies don't swoop at all (with a couple of very minor exceptions when an individual bird has been harrassed)!

While it is comforting to know that not every magpie is ready to attack when you walk through the park, it is scary when it does happen. So what should you do if you do get swooped? Check out our piece on the do's and don'ts to prepare yourself for the swooping season before it arrives.


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