We are very fortunate to have two Australian Magpies as visitors to our garden. In a recent poll taken by The Guardian (Australia) newspaper, the magpie was voted Australia's most popular bird. This was in spite of the fact that a magpie can swoop on an unsuspecting passer-by and inflict serious damage. To an Australian, the carolling sound of the magpie's call is as evocative as the scent of gum leaves or the sound of breakers crashing onto the beach.
Magpies are found all over Australia, although some people would be surprised to know that their numbers are in decline. The usual suspects seem to be responsible for this sorry state: overuse of pesticides, feral animals, loss of habitat and competition from other aggressive birds.
When magpies find a choice piece of real estate, they are quick to make it their home, and it will remain their home for many, many years. It doesn't even have to be a spread: a small garden will do, as long as there are insects and grubs there for the taking. If you also happen to inhabit that place, your new residents will quickly learn to recognise you and will have very little fear of you, allowing you to approach them or feed them.
It's true, magpies can swoop upon people who venture into their territory during nesting time, but your tenants should not swoop you, because they know you. Fear of 'swoopage' has led to sights such as cyclists with plastic spikes glued to their helmets, and it was once thought that a plastic ice cream bucket with a pair of eyes painted on the back was also an effective deterrent. I haven't tried this one myself.
The ornithologoical name for the magpie is Gymnorhina tibicen. The tibicen part means 'flautist' and refers to the magpie's renowned singing, called carolling. The song is very beautiful, and some people tell of hearing magpies imitate other birds as well. How versatile!
I'm looking forward to becoming friendly with our pair. I love to see them in the garden, their heads to one side listening for breakfast in the lawn and to hear them up on the roof warbling in the mornings. It's a very joyous, uplifting sound.