- Colour: black and white, with the pattern varying across its range. The back of its neck, upper tail and shoulders (on its wings) are white in males and grey in females, and (across most of Australia) the rest of its body is black. In south-eastern, central and south-western Australia, including Tasmania, its back and rump are entirely white. Its eye is red-brown. Young birds are usually grey rather than black and have dark eyes.
- One toe faces backwards and three face forwards. It has a square-tipped tail.
- Size: 36 – 44 cm long (from head to tail), with an average wing span of 76 cm.
- Call: a carolling, flute-like song, often calling together.
- Diet: small insects and animals that live on, or just under, the surface of the ground, including grasshoppers, scarab beetles, insect larvae, frogs and small lizards. During the day it walks along jabbing its beak into the ground, searching for food. It swallows small insects whole, and uses its beak to break up larger food items before eating them.
- Flight: swift, strong and direct, sometimes in flocks of several hundred birds.
- Breeding: it is extremely territorial during the four to six weeks of the breeding season. The female usually selects a nest site, which is either high up a tree, on a power pole or on the roof of a building. The nest is a rough basket of sticks, twigs, plant stems and occasionally wire, lined with softer materials such as wool, hair, grass, feathers and shredded bark. The female lays between one and six eggs, which are either blue or green with brown blotching, and she sits on them for 20 days. She then feeds her young until they are about four weeks old, when they are ready to fly and leave the nest.
What to Observe
- Bird on chicks
- Bird on eggs
- Bird on nest
- Bird feeding young
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
We expect birds to start breeding and singing earlier in the year as a result of climate change warming the Earth. They may also start appearing in new areas as warmer temperatures enable them to live in environments that were previously too cold for them.
When To Look
- From June to December
- Breeding time depends on the region: from June to September in northern Australia, from August to October in southern states, and even later in cooler regions.
- Eggs hatch three weeks after being laid
- Young birds leave the nest when they are four weeks old.
Where To Look
- Throughout Australia, wherever there are trees next to open areas, including natural habitat, farming areas, country towns, suburbs, cities, parks, gardens, bushland areas, sporting ovals and golf courses.
- Not in very dense forests and arid deserts.
- The nests are found in the outer branches of trees and sometimes on power poles and the roofs of buildings, generally next to open space.
Higgins PJ, Peter JM & Cowling SJ (eds) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Vol. 7, Part A. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Morcombe M 2000. Field Guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing Pty Ltd, Archerfield, Qld. • Pizzey G & Knight F 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
Schodde R & Tidemann SC (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.
Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis): has a completely black head and bib that is separated from its black back by a completely white collar. Its underparts are white.
Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca): is smaller with a smaller beak.
Currawong: doesn’t have large areas of white on its body, especially on the back of the neck. Also won’t have the red iris.
Did You Know?
The Australian Magpie has one of the world’s most complex bird songs.
Australian Magpies live in groups of up to 24 birds that are extremely territorial, particularly during the breeding season when they protect their food resources and nesting sites.
There are usually more females than males in each group.
Before they are two years old, young magpies are forced out of the territory by their parents. They join a group of other young magpies and less successful adults, and move from place to place in search of food and water. Individuals are only able to breed if they can replace another bird in a breeding group.
About 9-12 per cent of magpies will swoop aggressively and are nearly all males.
The Australian Magpie call was recorded by David Stewart from Naturesounds
Listen to the Call