Intelligent playful birds

If you hear a carolling warbling song greeting the dawn, you may be lucky to have a truly great Australian local bird in your backyard. This playful and highly intelligent bird is known as an Australian Magpie.

Magpies are found all over Australia. The Western Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen dorsalis), known as koolbardi in the Noongar language, is one of five sub-species of the Australian Magpie and is found in the south-west of Western Australia.1 They normally live in bushland, although they are common in urban areas. Magpies are synanthropes, which means they have an ability to live in an urban environment with humans.

Magpies are a large butcherbird and grow up to 45cm long. They have a black head, underparts, wing tips and tail tip. Males are white on the back of their neck and females are a duller grey. They have a blue-grey beak, black legs and brown eyes.2


Photos: Naomi Rakela

Magpies are omnivorous and walk around at ground level looking for food. They eat a wide variety of insects, as well as invertebrates such as earthworms and snails. This makes them useful for pest control.2

The magpies breeding season is between August and October. The females select a nesting site in a tall tree, on a power pole or even on the roof of a building. She can lay between one and six eggs, and feeds her young until they are ready to fly and leave the nest.3

While magpies are often synonymous with swooping during breeding season, studies have shown that only 12% of male magpies will actually swoop people. Additionally, more often than not, the swooping behaviour is a deterring display rather than an attack.1 So remain cautious, yet calm and confident, and enjoy their carolling calls.


Distribution map of the Magpie.
Map: Department of Parks and Wildlife.


See the Media page to watch the video ‘Do magpies know their victims?’



1Fauna Profile – Swooping Magpies, Department of Environment and Conservation

2Australian Museum