Feeding the Magpies

One of my Dad’s favourite expressions around mealtimes was that it was like ‘feeding the magpies’. I was reminded of this recently when I was distracted by a noisy young magpie, calling for food. It was loud and insistent, crying out until a parent returned with a morsel of food for consumption. The feeding mustn’t have been quick enough as the noise continued right up until the food was positioned in the young magpie’s beak, with the parent arching back in order to drop the food into the open mouth. As soon as it disappeared the noise started again.

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Feeding the magpie – open beak waiting for food

Off went the parent to source some more food. The young magpie poked around in the garden a bit and drank some rainwater out of a hollow in the path. The parent returned with more sustenance, and they moved around the garden a bit, hunting for the next treat. Another magpie flew in with a worm, and there was a bit of jostling about as the young magpie looked between the two food sources with great interest. Once both tidbits were consumed, the three birds walked the garden, looking for more food until a currawong landed in a nearby tree.

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Feeding time

One magpie immediately flew up into the tree, making warning noises and pushing at the currawong. The currawong held its ground, not meeting the warning with a similar response, but remaining steadfast on the branch. After a while the magpie rejoined the two magpies on the ground, and a wattle bird flew in and gave the currawong another serve, shoving it further down the branch before perching in the branch above. The size difference seemed not to matter, and I was reminded of Tim Low’s comments in Where Song Began about how aggressive Australian honeyeaters are.

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Currawong (left upper branch) and magpie working out their territory

Many insights into the behaviour of Australian magpies are provided by Dr Gisela Kaplan in her book Australian Magpie: Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird. The feeding of young magpies is taken care of by both parents as well as helpers when available. Earthworms are a popular choice for the baby chicks and fledglings as magpies don’t drink water until they are more mobile. The young are fed constantly for the first three months are so, then there is a further period of two to three months when they are shown how to fend for themselves, with some assistance if required. A process of weaning applies, with parents and helpers withholding food if need be to encourage the young to be self-sufficient.

It was interesting to be able to watch just a small part of the process of feeding the magpies.

And worth noting, too, that it was recently voted as Australian Bird of the Year 2017.

[Photo: magpies feeding]

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7 thoughts on “Feeding the Magpies

  1. A delightful insight into the behaviour of magpies. And yes the magpie was voted Australian Bird of the Year 2017. It’s interesting that it is such a dangerous bird, dive-bombing with its lethal beak any human that comes between the adult and the baby. Perhaps choosing this particular bird is a reflection of the mood of fear and the need for protection that pervades the world right now.

    • Thanks, Carmel, for your comments and I hadn’t thought of the magpies as symbolic of deeper currents within society. Perhaps it is their beautiful song and recognizability (if that is such a thing) that won them the top spot. I love their caroling and am glad to see them return to visit each year with their young as it feels rather like passing a test or show of faith 😊

      • I feel privileged to share my place with a pair of magpies. Recently listened to a good program about magpies—Ann Jones, Off Track program, on Radio National.

  2. I feel fortunate to have a pair of resident Maggies at my place. Great article about these birds, on radio program, Off the Beaten Track, with Ann Jones.

    • Thanks for sharing and I will track down the radio program. I’ve always admired maggies and was reminded of just how smart and interesting they are whilst listening to an ABC podcast featuring Dr Gisela Kaplan. My admiration of them continues to grow!

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