Australian Magpie

From SongbirdReMixWiki

Jump to: navigation, search


Common Name: Australian Magpie
Scientific Name: Gymnorhina tibicen

Size: 14 – 17¼ inches (36-44 cm)

Habitat: Australia; The Australian Magpie is found in the Trans-Fly region of southern New Guinea, between the Oriomo River and the Princess Mariane Strait, and across most of Australia, bar the tip of Cape York, the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts, and southwest of Tasmania. Birds taken mainly from Tasmania and Victoria were introduced into New Zealand by local Acclimatization Societies of Otago and Canterbury in the 1860s, with the Wellington Acclimatization Society releasing 260 birds in 1874. White-backed forms are spread on both the North and eastern South Island, while Black-backed forms are found in the Hawke's Bay region. Magpies were introduced into New Zealand to control agricultural pests, and were therefore a protected species until 1951. They are thought to affect native New Zealand bird populations such as the tui and kererū, sometimes raiding nests for eggs and nestlings, although studies by Waikato University have cast doubt on this, and much blame on the Magpie as a predator in the past has been anecdotal only. Introductions also occurred in the Solomon Islands and Sri Lanka, although the species has failed to become established. It has become established in western Taveuni in Fiji, however.

The Australian Magpie prefers open areas such as grassland, fields and residential areas such as parks, gardens, golf courses, and streets, with scattered trees or forest nearby.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: unknown. In general, evidence suggests the range and population of the Australian Magpie has increased with land-clearing, although local declines in Queensland due to a 1902 drought, and in Tasmania in the 1930s have been noted; the cause for the latter is unclear but rabbit baiting, pine tree removal, and spread of the Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) have been implicated.

Diet: Insects and their larvae. The Australian Magpie walks along the ground searching for insects and their larvae. Birds will also take handouts from humans and will often venture into open houses to beg for food.

Nesting: Although the Australian Magpie is generally quite tame, during the breeding season some individuals become aggressive towards any intruders, including humans, which venture too close to their nest sites. The nest is a platform of sticks and twigs (occasionally wire), with a small interior bowl lined with grass and hair. The nest is constructed in the outer branches of a tree, up to 15 m above the ground. Some Australian Magpies can be very aggressive during breeding season and attacks on humans and pets can occur.

Cool Facts: The Australian Magpie has one of the world's most complex bird songs.

Australian Magpies are common and conspicuous birds. Groups of up to 24 birds live year round in territories that are actively defended by all group members. The group depends on this territory for its feeding, roosting and nesting requirements.

There are currently thought to be nine subspecies of the Australian Magpie, however there are large zones of overlap with intermediate forms between the taxa. There is a tendency for birds to become larger with increasing latitude, the southern subspecies being larger than those further north the exception being the Tasmanian form which is small. The original form known as the Black-backed Magpie and classified as Gymnorhina tibicen has been split into four black-backed races:

  • G. tibicen tibicen, the nominate form, is a large subspecies found in southeastern Queensland, from the vicinity of Moreton Bay through eastern New South Wales to Moruya, New South Wales almost to the Victorian border. It is coastal or near-coastal and is restricted to east of the Great Dividing Range.
  • G. tibicen terraereginae, found from Cape York and the Gulf Country southwards across Queensland to the coast between Halifax Bay in the north and south to the Mary River, and central and western New South Wales and into northern South Australia, is a small to medium-sized subspecies. The plumage is the same as that of subspecies tibicen, although the female has a shorter black tip to the tail. The wings and tarsus are shorter and the bill proportionally longer. It was originally described by Gregory Mathews in 1912, its subspecies name a Latin translation, terra "land" reginae "queen's" of "Queensland". Hybridization with the large white-backed subspecies tyrannica occurs in northern Victoria and southeastern New South Wales; intermediate forms have black bands of varying sizes in white-backed area. Three-way hybridization occurs between Bega and Batemans Bay on the New South Wales south coast.
  • G. tibicen eylandtensis, the Top End Magpie, is found from the Kimberley in northern Western Australia, across the Northern Territory through Arnhem Land and Groote Eylandt and into the Gulf Country. It is a small subspecies with a long and thinner bill, with birds of Groote Eylandt possibly even smaller than mainland birds. It has a narrow black terminal tailband, and a narrow black band; the male has a large white nape, the female pale grey. This form was initially described by H. L. White in 1922. It intergrades with subspecies terraereginae southeast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
  • G. tibicen longirostris, the Long-billed Magpie, is found across northern Western Australia, from Shark Bay into the Pilbara. Named in 1903 by Alex Milligan, it is a medium-sized subspecies with a long thin bill. Milligan speculated the bill may have been adapted for the local conditions, slim fare meaning the birds had to pick at dangerous scorpions and spiders. There is a broad area of hybridisation with the western dorsalis in southern central Western Australia from Shark Bay south to the Murchison River and east to the Great Victoria Desert.

The White-backed Magpie, originally described as Gymnorhina hypoleuca by John Gould in 1837, has also been split into races:

  • G. tibicen tyrannica, a very large white-backed form found from Twofold Bay on the New South Wales far south coast, across southern Victoria south of the Great Dividing Range through to the Coorong in southeastern South Australia. It was first described by Schodde and Mason in 1999. It has a broad black tail band.
  • G. tibicen telonocua, found from Cowell south into the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas in southern South Australia, as well as the southwestern Gawler Ranges. Described by Schodde and Mason in 1999, its subspecific name is an anagram of leuconota "white-backed". It is very similar to tyrannica, differing in having a shorter wing and being lighter and smaller overall. The bill is relatively short compared with other magpie subspecies. Intermediate forms are found in the Mount Lofty Ranges and on Kangaroo Island.
  • C. tibicen hypoleuca now refers to a small white-backed subspecies with a short compact bill and short wings, found on King and Flinders Islands, as well as Tasmania.

Other variations:

  • C. tibicen dorsalis, The Western Magpie, was originally described as a separate species by A. J. Campbell in 1895 and is found in the fertile south-west corner of Western Australia. The adult male has a white back and most closely resembles subspecies telonocua, though it is a little larger with a longer bill and the black tip of its tail plumage is narrower. The female is unusual in that it has a scalloped black or brownish-black mantle and back; the dark feathers there are edged with white. This area appears a more uniform black as the plumage ages and the edges are worn away. Both sexes have black thighs.
  • C. tibicen papuana, The New Guinean Magpie, is a little-known subspecies found in southern New Guinea. The adult male has a mostly white back with a narrow black stripe, and the female a blackish back; the black feathers here are tipped with white similar to subspecies dorsalis. It has a long deep bill resembling that of subspecies longirostris.

Found in Songbird ReMix Australia Volume II

Personal tools