The Australian Magpie is a large butcherbird at 37-44 cm in length and is one of the most common birds in Australia, being found in almost every habitat. Despite the name, they are not closely related to the true magpies, but probably share a common ancestor tens of millions of years ago. As with the butcherbirds, they are musical with a pleasant array of flutey whistles. These birds have a complex social system with a dominant male, several females and a number of immature birds. These family groups fiercely hold a territory against outsiders and magpie groups of particularly low status can find themselves as wandering bands without a territory.
The plumage is quite variable across Australia and the nine subspecies (although older sources may have fewer races) fall into two groups: black-backed and white-backed. Generally, black-backed magpies are found in the northern half of Australia and in the south east in southern NSW. White-backed magpies range from southern NSW through to southern WA. To further complicate matters, females are differently plumaged from the males, often with a grey neck patch instead of white and in white-backed races, they often have grey and white scalloping down the back. Juveniles are usually speckled grey on the breast and can have shorter, darker beaks.
The first two birds here are of the black-backed group, race tibicen, which occurs down the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range. The first is an adult male, while the second is a juvenile.
The next two are of the race tyrannicae, which is part of the white-backed group of subspecies, found in Victoria and southern SA. The first is an adult male, the second a juvenile. Birds from black-backed races can sometimes show a white back due to recessive genes.
The last two are of the race dorsalis, also part of the white-backed group, which occurs in southern WA. The first is an adult male, the second a juvenile.
1: Camperdown Campus, University of Sydney, 03/09/2009.
2: Camperdown Campus, University of Sydney, 29/09/2009.
3: Monash University, 19/03/2010.
4: Monash University, 17/03/2010.
5-6: King's Park, Perth, WA, 17/03/2010.