The Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is a familiar visitor to many gardens.
Magpies have a melodious, warbling, caroling call and can sometimes be heard on bright moonlit nights. They can mimic other birdsong, dogs, horses and humans. Juvenile birds have a persistent begging squawk and may occasionally be seen rolling around the ground playing together, unusual behaviour for birds. The birds walk rather than hop along the ground.
They are territorial birds with complex social and family lives in tribes and flocks. Tribes are structured groups of 2-24 birds which defend a territory and usually raise one brood of chicks. Flocks are more nomadic and consist of many more birds, mainly young and less successful non-breeding magpies. There is high mortality rate among chicks and juveniles however adults may live up to thirty years.
Magpies breed in their own territory between August and October. The female selects the nest site, builds the nest, incubates the eggs and feeds the young. The male defends the nest during this time and will feed his partner. After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest for about four weeks until they leave the nest and are fed by their parents or helpers within the tribe. The young stay in the tribe until they are forced out of their parents' territory. They then join the nomadic flocks until they are able to find their own breeding territory.
Magpies are one of the few native species to thrive in human modified landscape. They have adapted well to rural and urban areas, although rural magpies are more afraid of people than their urban counterparts, who are far more habituated to close human contact.
For a few weeks during the nesting season, a small proportion of males become aggressive and may swoop on people. Studies indicate that this swooping behaviour is not caused by increased testosterone in males or to protect territory, it is the action of a protective male trying to keep his chicks safe from perceived predators, which may include humans. Swooping can be extremely unpleasant, however magpies are a protected species and the vast majority of people are tolerant of a few weeks of annoyance by these overzealous fathers.
There are a number of ways to minimise the impact of swooping. Local councils often erect warning signs around swooping magpies, if possible avoid these areas. As protection, umbrellas, hats and sunglasses are recommended, as are fake eyes and cable ties for cyclists helmets, although there have been suggestions that this strange paraphernalia may make humans appear even more menacing to anxious magpie fathers. If swooped unexpectedly, stay calm, do not harass the magpie, continue walking or dismount if on a bike or horse. If concerned, fold arms above your head to protect your head and eyes and keep walking, the magpie will soon desist as you move away from its nest.