Australian Magpies belong to the same family as the Butcherbirds and Currawongs. They are found in areas in which there are trees (used for shelter, nesting and roosting) and bare or grassy areas in which to feed. Magpies forage on the ground, turning over loose material, as they search for a range of insects, worms, spiders, lizards, mice and seeds. A favourite food is the scarab beetle which does so much damage to lawns. Magpies live in territorial groups. At the top of the social structure is the permanent territorial group, large enough to defend its territory without depleting resources. Next come marginal groups whose territories are lower in quality and may not contain enough year-round food or suitable nesting or roosting trees. On the bottom rung are loose non-territorial flocks made up of immature birds, displaced adults and older birds.
Nesting time is June to December. The nests are a basket of sticks and stems lined with wool, hair, grass and often bits of plastic, string and wire. Nests are built high up in the gum trees and are often used year by year until they become unrepairable. It takes about 20 days for the eggs to hatch and the young spend 4 weeks in the nest before they fledge, able only to flutter and not fly. As the juveniles get older, their hunting skills improve and the adults become reluctant to feed them. It is at this time you may see the parents pecking them when they make begging noises.
Nesting Magpies defend their territory by swooping upon the perceived intruder. They beat their wings, clack their beaks and occasionally peck or scratch with their claws. This aggressive defence of territory lasts for the time when eggs and young are in the nest. There are a number of measures that can be taken to protect people and deter further swoops:
* Try to avoid the area where Magpies are swooping and make a temporary sign to inform other people.
* Wear a hat while in the area.
* Carry a stick or branch above your head.
* Best protection of all is to carry an open umbrella.
Don not stop if you swooped upon. You are still in the Magpies territory and therefore they will keep swooping at you. Walk quickly until you are out of the area.
An aggressive Magpie should not be moved from the area for a number of reasons:
* The eggs will fail to hatch or the young will die of starvation and exposure.
* If a territory is vacated other Magpies from less suitable areas will claim it and build a new nest of their own.
* If only the nest is removed the birds will build another one in the same area.
Because of these reasons it is best to live with Magpies while taking suitable precautions during the breeding season.