Of Magpies and music

I am not a keen bird watcher. I was given lots of talents, but for me, being able to see ‘detail in the distance’ requires glasses or binoculars. It follows then, that if I can’t see the birds, I certainly won’t be able to watch them effectively either!

Having said that, I do have a few favourite Australian species, mostly because they are common in my garden and give me plenty of opportunities to observe their antics.

The Magpie – black and white all over

The subject of this post – the Magpie, was running late when the ‘feather colours’ were handed out by the great bird creator, and all that was left was black and white! In addition to having unimaginative colouring, they are not pretty birds either, probably the best description for them would be ‘practical’! Big beaks to catch insects, large wings on a medium sized body, piercing eyes and, well, that’s about it really!

The birds are strongly territorial during the breeding season and do not tolerate their offspring remaining in the territory once they have fledged. The young ones gather together and establish themselves in non breeding spaces. Our garden is in one of these spaces, so we get visits from lots of younger birds who gather and hunt for food together in small groups.

Serious Warning

Serious Warning (Photo credit: cogdogblog)

Magpies also do not approve of people being in their territories at breeding time. If you ever see an Australian cyclist getting around in springtime with spikes sticking out of their helmet, do not be alarmed! The spikes are only plastic cable ties and their function is to prevent Magpies from ‘swooping’ as the rider goes through Magpie breeding territories! (There are lots of other techniques used too – painting ‘eyes’ on the top of your hat is another favourite!) This swooping behaviour can be quite alarming, especially when one is attacked unexpectedly from behind!

Outside of the breeding season though, the birds are quite amiable and become accustomed to people quite easily, but rarely become pests like pigeons or sparrows. But this easy association makes them quite entertaining and their daring behaviours bring them so close that they are a delight to watch.

The iconic Australian Magpie.
Hated by some in the breeding season, loved by many at other times!

However, the thing I love most about these big birds is their song. They have a melodious warble that can continue for quite a long time and it is really, really lovely. When the younger birds take over the garden and all start singing together, it is so special and so beautiful. And often, it can go on for an hour or more.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens have recorded and published these beautiful sounds of the Magpie. About half way down the list on this webpage is a hyperlink to the song of both a group and a single Magpie.

This, to me, is the true sound of Australia.

(If you want to read about other techniques used to avoid being ‘swooped’ by Magpies, here are some sites that have additional articles:
Brisbane Times newspaper)

This entry was posted in Australia, Music, Odds & ends and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Of Magpies and music

  1. scrapydo says:

    Thank you for telling more about Magpies I hear people say they can be nasty. Have not come across any yet here in New Zealand where I live.


    • Madoqua says:

      I don’t think that here are any Magpies in NZ, but I could be wrong. I know you have lots of other birds with delightful names though!


      • scrapydo says:

        Yes there are but more to the north I think. There sure are also some real interesting birds around here. At night I often hear a Morepork (Small owl)


        • Madoqua says:

          That’s amazing! Learn something new every day! I wonder if NZ Magpies are as cross in the breeding season as their Australian counterparts?
          I would love to see a Morepork (or even hear one for that matter!). I saw lots of owls in Kruger – mostly perched high up in trees. The ones I saw were huge, but still very difficult to photograph.


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  3. Lois says:

    Magpies are such great characters! I guess Australian magpies are not the same as English one? I’m guessing they’re native?


    • Madoqua says:

      Yes, they are native, so I imagine we are dealing with different species, but they are probably still pretty closely related.
      We are now into our magpie swooping season, and I have been swooped already 🙂
      But I laughed the other day when I saw a cyclist with a branch strapped to his bike. It had lots of twigs on the end which were positioned above his head. It looked funny, but I bet it worked a treat!


      • Lois says:

        How hilarious! What a good idea! We have problems with seagulls that swoop – magpies generally just pick on other birds!


        • Madoqua says:

          Seagulls? I had not heard of that before. Is it only when they are nesting, or are they cranky all the time?


          • Lois says:

            They are pretty cranky pretty much all the time – but we’re at a holiday resort where there are a lot of fast food outlets so there is plenty of food lying about for them (thanks to all the people who don’t use the litter bins and despite the best efforts of our street cleaners) so they expect that where there are people there will also be food!


          • Madoqua says:

            Pity about that – people can teach animals such bad habits.


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