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Magpie-lark

A male Magpie-Lark that has just caught an insect to eat. [Photographed by Peter Rowland]

Male

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Scientific Name: Grallina cyanoleuca

Size: 26 to 30 cm

What does it look and sound like?

The Magpie-lark is boldly marked black and white, and can be confused with few other birds. The thin whitish bill and pale iris are unlike other similarly coloured species. The adult male Magpie-lark is distinguished from the female by his white eyebrow and black face, while the female has an all white face, and has no white eyebrow. Young birds have a black forehead, white throat and a white eyebrow.

The “pee-o-wit” or “pee-wee” call is frequently given as a duet, each bird raising its wings in turn, and has given rise to the species’ alternative name of Peewee.

The name Magpie-lark is quite misleading, as the species has no link with either the magpies or the larks. People do often confuse the Magpie-lark with the larger Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen. While both species are black and white in colour, the Australian Magpie is significantly larger at 38 to 44 cm.

Where is it found?

This species is confined to Australasia, and is found throughout Australia (although only a rare vagrant to Tasmania), southern New Guinea and Timor.

What are its habitats & habits?

Magpie-larks are found in almost any habitat except rainforests and the driest deserts. They are familiar urban birds. Non-breeding and young birds form large flocks, often consisting of several thousand individuals, which move nomadically in conjunction with the changing weather patterns.

The Magpie-lark is mostly ground-dwelling, and is most often seen slowly searching on the ground for a variety of insects and their larvae, earthworms and freshwater invertebrates.

Magpie-larks build an unusual mud nest. During the breeding season both the male and female Magpie-lark gather wet mud from the edge of a watercourse and construct a bowl-shaped nest on a horizontal branch, or similar structure, often up to 20 metres above the ground. The bowl is lined with feathers and grasses.

The male and female birds often sit side by side and call alternately, each raising and lowering their wings as they do so. Magpie-larks aggressively defend their nest and territory, which may occupy up to ten hectares. Both male and female share the incubation duties and both care for the three to five young. If conditions are favourable more than one brood may be reared in a year.

Interesting facts

The Magpie-lark’s mud nest had previously lead to the species being wrongly linked with the mud-nest building members of the family Corcoracidae; namely the White-winged Chough, Corcorax melanorhamphos, and the Apostlebird, Struthidea cinerea.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book¬†Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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