Our home is situated among the trees in Warrandyte, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. My husband Steve and I enjoy sitting outside watching the birds. In January 2020, a female magpie visited while my husband was eating his lunch in the garden.
The magpie looked at him as if to ask for a piece of his sandwich and he gave the bird a small bit. The magpie came back with her three offspring and we fed them some mincemeat. It was summer and her young should have started to take care of themselves, but she was still feeding them with her beak.
Mother Magpie encouraged her growing birds to eat on their own and one quickly learned while the other two were slower. The faster learner stopped coming to us for food and we noticed out of the two birds that stayed, one was stronger than the other. The stronger one we named Knuckles and the slow learner we called Mackers. Both eventually were able to eat on their own. Mackers still struggled with survival skills and so we continued to feed them.
I experienced some depressing moments when the COVID-19 lockdown began. I found the magpies lifted me to a joyful mood with their beautiful birdcalls and their comical behavior.
Mother Magpie uses her beak to give her infants a nudge to make them learn. Mackers will hide in the bushes when a different species of bird arrives at feeding time. Knuckles will come close to me and is not intimidated by other birds. A male magpie appeared one day and he was a little shy compared to Mother Magpie. We see them all together during the day pecking at the lawn for bugs and helping each other survive like a family.
The black speckled over the white band of feathers at the back of her neck can distinguish a female magpie. The male bird has a thick coat of only white feathers at the back of his neck. A juvenile magpie has more grey and brown feathers, with small patches of white and black.
In spring, magpies are well known to swoop or attack people who walk close to their nests. They observe those living in their territory and get to know them. A magpie lets you get close to their young birds when they know you’re trustworthy. Feeding them does not make you a friend; it’s your act of kindness they can see. Many people feed these birds to stop them from swooping.
Bread is not nutritious enough for any bird species and magpies should not be given lots of it as they have a varied diet of seeds, grains, some fruit, and insects, including cockroaches, crickets, flies, ants, and spiders, but also earthworms caterpillars, frogs, geckos, and mice. Freezing mincemeat for three days kills bad bacteria in it and can be given to the magpies. Some pet shops sell seeds and meat for native birds.
An audio recording of Mother Magpie while we feed the birds.
Two kookaburras joined the magpies after weeks of watching us feed them. We called the male kookaburra Wally and he will take the meat from your hand if you are not quick enough to put it on the ledge. Wally will also pick up a bit of mince and give it to its mate, which is more timid. Magpies and kookaburras are known to be enemies. Wally the kookaburra pecked at Mother Magpie for not sharing.
The next time Wally flew in for a feed while Mother Magpie was eating, she stood back and let him take a small portion first. Wally took it and flew to the ground so Mother Magpie could eat the rest. These two are different species and have learned to share and tolerate each other.
The kookaburra’s voice sounds like laughter, and the purpose is to tell other birds this is its territory. The female is slightly larger than the male and it is hard to tell them apart. The male has a few blue-green feathers on the back at the rump of his body and the female doesn’t. They are carnivorous birds and have good observation skills, which they use to catch their prey like small fish, lizards, and snakes. A kookaburra’s thick beak can pick up a snake, kill it, and eat it.
We are grateful for the magpies and kookaburras in our life at this time as both their unique birdcalls and antics make the day much more cheerful.