ClimateWatch

An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

  1. 141 Photo by Frank O'Connor
  2. 141 Magpie-lark by Rich Weatherill

Magpie-lark

Grallina cyanoleuca

Appearance

  • Colour: black and white; the pattern varies slightly between sexes. The male has a white eyebrow above a black horizontal eye-stripe, a black face and throat, while the female has a white face and throat, with a broad vertical stripe through the eye, and no white eyebrow. Both sexes have a thin white bill and black legs and feet.
  • Juvenile Magpie-larks have a black forehead, white eyebrow and a white throat.
  • Size: 24 – 30 cm long.

Behaviour

  • Call: a ringing ‘pee-o-wit’ or ‘pee-wee’, often sung by two birds together, with each bird lifting its wings after calling. Its call has given rise to the vernacular name of Peewee.
  • Diet: mostly invertebrates, usually insects and spiders, but occasionally also other small animals. They usually forage in pairs but very occasionally feed in small flocks.
  • Movement: largely sedentary, and any movements are usually local in nature, with non-breeding birds sometimes forming mobile nomadic flocks. In northern Australia there may be movement by some birds to the coast in the dry season, and returning during the wet.
  • Breeding: both sexes build the bowl-shaped nest from wet mud and then line it with feathers and grass. Between 3 and 5 eggs are laid, and are incubated by both parents for 14–19 days. Both parents care for the young and if conditions are favourable, more than one brood can be reared in a year.

What to Observe

  • Courting/mating
  • Calling
  • Feeding
  • Bird on chicks
  • Bird on eggs
  • Bird on nest
  • Bird feeding young

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

­­­Climate change is most likely to affect this species by enabling it to expand its range in the arid parts of Australia. The main factor limiting its distribution in drier areas is the availability of mud for nest-building, so it is often confined to watercourses or areas where water is permanently available. If climate change leads to increasing rainfall in some areas, this may enable Magpie-larks to expand into areas where it was previously unable to breed. The effects of climate change may also influence the timing of when Magpie-larks start to breed and the duration of their breeding activities. Help scientists answer the question: "How are our animals, plants and ecosystems responding to climate change?" by recording the observations above.

When To Look

  • Breeding is opportunistic, so birds can breed at any time, but mostly from August to February in southern Australia and any time after rain in dry areas.
  • Young birds stay in the nest for 17 – 18 days.

Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in the timing of these events, so remember to keep a lookout from July in southern Australia and anytime in drier or northern Australia!

Where To Look

  • In almost any open or lightly timbered habitat, almost always associated with water. It is common in urban areas and farmland.
  • Throughout mainland Australia, and an occasional visitor to Tasmania.
  • Look in in parks, gardens and along roadsides where it commonly forages on the ground. Nests are usually on horizontal branches, up to 20 metres above the ground.

Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in their known ranges, so remember to keep a lookout anywhere in Australia!

References

Pizzey G & Knight F 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Schodde R & Tidemann SC (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.

Higgins PJ, Peter, JM & Cowling, SJ (eds) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Vol. 6 Part A Boatbill to Larks. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

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  1. What Else?

    • Australian Magpie (Cracticus tibicen): is almost twice as large (36 – 44 cm long) with a heavier beak, and wholly black underbody (the Magpie-lark is mostly white below).
    • Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis): has a completely black head and bib, separated from its black back by a white collar.
    • Another black-and-white bird: won’t have the thin whitish bill and pale eye.
  1. Did You Know?

    The call recording is by David Stewart Naturesound

    Its name is misleading as it is not related to either magpies or larks.

    It can be aggressive during breeding season, defending its nest and territory, which may occupy 7 – 25 hectares.

    When the mud of its nest is dry, it is as hard and durable as concrete.

    Its average weight is 85 grams.

  1. Listen to the Call

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