Australian magpie – Cracticus tibicen

Magpies bear very little resemblance to the European bird after which they are named, and are in fact butcherbirds – belonging to the genus Cracitus.

The connection to butcherbirds can be hard to understand until you see a Black butcherbird, which very much looks like a mix of a butcherbird and a magpie. In fact genetic studies have shown that magpies and black butcherbirds separated quite recently – around four million years ago. The biggest difference between magpies and butcherbirds is that magpies have evolved to forage on the ground, as opposed to butcherbirds which typically watch and then pounce on prey from tree branches. This has enabled magpies to exploit a lot of human environments and they are well known in gardens and urban environments throughout Australia, as well as woodlands.

There are three sub-species, with the black-backed form the most widely distributed and the form found in our area. The white-backed form, which is found in south-eastern Australia, does make it into the southern Downs area, just over the border from New South Wales. Magpies are of course famous for swooping in the breeding season, and although that can be dangerous, it is only a very small percentage of them that swoop – around 9%. It is usually done by the males and peaks around September, just after the chicks have hatched, and usually stops in October. Although experiencing a magpie attack is an Australian rite of passage there can be serious injuries, especially to eyes, and it is best to heed the warning signs that many Councils post and avoid magpie nesting areas altogether.

For more on these beautiful birds see and the Bird Bites facebook and youtube channels.

This article first appeared in the High Country Herald 22nd of January 2024