The Australian magpie, belonging to genus Gymnorhina, is a medium-sized passerine bird. This species is closely related to Melloria quoyi (Black butcherbird). It is one of Australia’s most well-known songbirds.
Species: G. Tibicen
The scientific name for Australian magpie is Gymnorhina tibicen.
Currently, there are nine recognized subspecies of Gymnorhina tibicen. They are –
Adult Australian magpies range from 37 to 43 centimeters in length, and their weight is between 220 to 350 grams.
Their wingspan is between 65 to 85 centimeters. Their feathers are glossy white and black. The head, wings, and underparts are black. Its shoulder is white. Males have white nape, while females have grayish-white nape. The Black-backed subspecies possess white nape and black saddle. In White-backed subspecies, the saddle and nape are totally white. The dorsal of the Western Australian subspecies tend to be white in males, and scalloped black in females. They have a bluish-white bill with a tiny hook at the tip. Adult specimens have dull red colored eyes. They have long, dark gray legs. Juveniles carry light brown and gray plumage along with distinct whites and blacks. They attain their adult plumage when they are 2 or 3 years old.
They prefer to inhabit open areas; such as fields, residential area, and grasslands. They take shelter, and nest in trees, but forage in open areas. The scattered population can also be found in streets, parks, golf courses and gardens with forests nearby.
This species is native to Australia and New Guinea. From 1864 to 1874, more than 1000 individuals were introduced in New Zealand, where it is currently considered as pests as it displaced a lot of its native birds. They were also introduced in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Sri Lanka. However, the population failed to establish in Sri Lanka and the Solomon Islands.
Australian magpies are conspicuous and common in its native range. They are generally sedentary, and live in a group having their own territory. They aggressively defend their territory from intruders. This species is known for attacking people by swooping down from the air, especially during the breeding season. There are records of this bird biting people on their face, eyes, neck and ears. Most of these dive-bomb strikes take place from behind or side; and rarely from the front. They are primarily diurnal, but at times, their calls can be heard during the night. Unlike other members of Artamidae that hops on the ground, Australian magpies walks on the ground. A ground usually carol to show its possession of the territory. In case of an intrusion, the defending group begin aerial displays (swooping and diving) to warn the intruding Australian magpie’s group. Their unique playful behavior include picking up a leaf or feather and then flying off with it, while other individuals try to bring down the chaser by snecking on its tail. They often engage in mock fighting. They tend to be playful even as a juvenile. Little individuals can often be seen rolling on the ground with their siblings.
Their breeding season varies as per its geographical range; like in northern Australia, breeding takes place between June and September, whereas in cooler regions, it starts in August or September.
Nest is constructed by the female and it is placed in a tree fork. Female lays a clutch of 2 to 5 oval-shaped greenish or blue eggs. Incubation goes on for around 20 days. Chicks are altricial at birth. Nestlings develop downy plumage when they are a week old. Their eyes fully open when they are 10 days old. Juveniles are fed by the female only, while males offer food to the female. They feed on their own when they are almost 6 months old. They attain their adult size when they are a year old. A lot of the young individuals leave the nest when they are one year old, but departure can be as long as 4 years depending on region and group.
This species is omnivorous. They feed on a great variety of invertebrates and insects, such as snails, spiders, scorpions, millipedes, earthworms, cockroaches, grasshoppers, cicadas, moths, caterpillars, ants and beetles. At times, they also feed on mice, frogs, skinks and other small animals. Along with these, walnuts and figs are also a part of their diet. Researchers have also noted that this species can also eat the underparts of poisonous cane toad by tossing it over.
Gymnorhina tibicen can live for 25 to 30 years in the wild.
It is one of Australia’s favorite songbirds. They have a series of complex calls. They are known to mimic the voices of more than 35 bird species that are native or introduced to this land. Some individuals can mimic human speech if they live around humans for some time. The warbling song of a solitary individual is the most common of its calls. Pairs emit loud musical calls, popularly known as ‘caroling.’ A group often produce a repetitive, short version of caroling, in dawn and twilight, mostly during winter and spring. Beak-clapping is common during intrusion from another species. They also emit high-pitched alarm calls. Juveniles and fledglings produce a loud, short high-pitches begging call.
In its natural habitat, their predators include the Barking owl and Monitor lizard. Nestlings are also vulnerable to the Australian raven.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Australian magpie in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
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