Australian Magpie, Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Australian Magpie, Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Australian Magpie, Botanic Gardens, Canberra

A few days ago I wrote about the small group of White-winged Choughs I watched in the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra. While I was watching them digging around for food and them being most obliging to pose for my camera, the magpie in the photo above came swooping down from a nearby tree and clacked his beak. Not at me – but at the choughs. Seems that they have a little rivalry going on there. Perhaps the magpie was protecting his little patch of the gardens and didn’t want any other birds taking his food supply.

I’ve noticed a similar thing at home here in Murray Bridge, South Australia. Some of the magpies, especially the males, can be very aggressive towards other species. The will fly straight at them, almost hitting them with their wings and giving loud clacking beak noises.

Another thing I  noticed about the magpie shown in the photo is that it looks very much like the White-backed race of Australian Magpie. Most of New South Wales has the Black-backed race except the south coast from Bateman’s Bay on towards Victoria. The distribution of the White-backed Magpies might be even broader than this as my observations in this area are quite limited.

I’d be interested in readers’ comments.

Flowers in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Flowers in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra


5 Responses to “Australian Magpie, Botanic Gardens, Canberra”

  1. stephen says:


    I just stumbled on your blog and thought I’d comment about the whole black backed/white backed magpie thing.

    Magpies and their evolutionary ancestors have been around for a long time. Sometime during the last ice age a population of black backed magpies from mainland Australia became established in Tasmania. During the final interglacial period of the Pleistocene Tasmania became separated from mainland Australia and, either through random chance (known as genetic drift) or directional selection, the Tasmanian population became what we now know as white backed magpies.

    During the final glaciation period Tasmania became attached to mainland Australia again and the white backed Tasmania population was able to cross back in to the mainland. Over time the range of the White backed magpies has increased, such that it now covers Victoria, parts of South Australia and the southern parts of NSW. Interbreeding between the two subspecies occurs where the black backed population and white backed population meet forming what is known as a Zone of Hybrdization. This zone runs straight through Canberra so the magpie you saw in the botanical gardens was more than likely a black backed/white backed hybrid.

  2. Trevor says:

    Welcome to my birding blog Stephen, and thanks for your comments.

    Your comments sent me searching though HANZAB where the discussion on the plumage variations in Australian Magpie races are discussed at length and in detail, along with comments on geographical variations. As you pointed out, the zone of hybridization is in the highlands and includes Canberra. Looking again at the photo above supports what you are saying.

    I am certainly no expert in these matters and have no formal qualifications – just an amateur’s interest in birds. That’s one of the reasons I invested in HANZAB; all the work in these areas done by experts is distilled into the comprehensive texts.

    Again – thanks for the comments.

  3. Cordelia says:

    Very interesting thanks!! 🙂

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