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What we can learn from Australian magpies

What we can learn from Australian magpies

The 2020 movie Penguin Bloom is based on the real-life story of Sam Bloom, an Australian champion canoeist. The magpie that features in it reminds me of a blog I wrote about Australian magpies, as part of an assignment for The University of Melbourne’s Animal Behaviour MOOC (massive open online course).

Studying magpie behaviour and their survival strategies is fascinating, and I got close to a couple of young birds, when I helped them get rid of fishing line that had become entangled around their legs.

Magpies adapt quickly to urban environments and the free rides that can be had. At the same time they have to overcome obstacles created by uncaring attitudes, such as when waste and fishing wire is carelessly discarded into the environment.

What makes Australian magpies so successful?

Magpies must learn to adapt and deal with intruders, who may be stronger and larger than them. In neighbourhoods with strong permanent magpie residents, status tends to be equal and fights are rare. In a stable neighbourhood the various groups have worked out their needs and have become familiar with one another. 

Magpies are very collaborative birds. When they have adequate resources they occasionally collaborate in locating food and raising young. When magpies spot a predator they issue alarm calls. They often follow and harass a raptor to a distance well outside their own territory. I have observed them chase away sea eagles on many occasions. Magpies warn others of cats, snakes and birds of prey. Countless species benefit from such cooperative, vigilant magpie behaviour.

Many birds will hide when they see danger, but magpies will go out and actively, even fearlessly, pursue it. It is their strong group cohesion and collaboration that helps magpies survive.

Adaptation and flexibility, as well as collaboration, cooperation, being proactive and fearlessly pursuing goals are just some of the approaches magpies use so successfully. If we adopt these behaviours in our personal and work environments, we can build strong alliances and create a positive future on a just and healthy planet.

Further reading

Field notes on Australian magpies are available at this link. They include a number of photographs, videos, and sound recordings. You will see that magpies are also very playful. Playfulness brings many benefits to humans as well, see this post.

Are you interested in reading up more on the importance of native birds to the environment? Would you like to learn about the latest research on the magpie’s biology and behaviour? I can highly recommend The Australian Magpie – Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird, by Gisela Kaplan. Professor Kaplan is the author of more than 250 research articles. She has conducted ground-breaking research into vocal learning, communication and cognition in birds and other vertebrates. Professor Kaplan holds two PhDs and an honorary DSc for her contributions to life sciences. In addition to extensive field research on birds she has also raised and rehabilitated injured native birds such as magpies.