The Magipie-lark is March's bird of the month.
The Magpie-lark is related to neither the Magpies nor the Larks. While in appearance it resembles the Australian Magpie, and, like the Magpie, is usually seen foraging on the ground, it is only about half its size, has a white underside, a thin white bill and pale eye. It is commonly, and perhaps more appropriately, called the Peewee, after its call, or the Mudlark, due to it being commonly seen on mudflats, feeding or collecting mud to build its nest.
The Magpie-lark is a medium sized bird, pied black and white above and all white below, with a black band at the end of its tail and a whitish eye. The male and female appear similar in general appearance, but can be distinguished by the markings of their heads. The male has a black face and throat with a white eyebrow, while the female has a white face and throat and a black band running down from her crown, through the eye to join with her breast. The juvenile birds have both the white eyebrow and the white throat and black band through the eye which is not yet white.
Magpie-larks are found throughout the Australian mainland, except for rainforest and the most arid deserts, with occasional records from Tasmania in the south and Timor to southern New Guinea in the north. They were introduced onto Lord Howe Island and are now well established there.
They are one of the success stories of European development in Australia. Agriculture and urban parklands have greatly assisted them, providing large open areas for them to forage, as well as dams and ponds to provide the mud they use for nesting.
Magpie-larks are predominately carnivorous, striding across lawns, mudflats, patches of bare ground, and along pond edges, in search of insects, spiders, and freshwater invertebrates. As they walk along in search of prey they move their heads back and forth in time with their steps.
The breeding season is usually spring and summer, when insects tend to be more plentiful. Magpie-larks form permanent breeding pairs and become intensely territorial. A pair will perform breeding displays, selecting a high perch and, standing side by side, sing a duet of calls, each calling alternatively, raising their wings and fanning their tails as they call. They each then perform a calling display flight before returning to the perch to repeat their duet. This is not only to strengthen the bond between them, but to warn other Magpie-larks not to enter their territory.
They work together to build a bowl shaped mud nest, usually on a horizontal branch above or near water. They line the nest with grass and feathers. Three to five eggs are laid and both birds share incubation for about eighteen days until the fluffy grey chicks hatch. They protect the chicks at the nest for about another three weeks until the chicks fledge into their black and white plumage and can leave the nest. The juveniles remain with the adults for three to four months until they develop their adult plumage and have to leave the territory to join nomadic flocks of unpaired birds.
If a nest is damaged, or chicks lost to storm or predation, the pair will rebuild and nest again, and if conditions are good they may raise a second clutch of eggs after the first chicks leave the nest.
In the Parklands:
Magpie-larks are found throughout the park with nesting territories spaced among the ponds. They will often allow humans to approach, and are found around the flocks of other birds gathered for our handouts.
During the breeding season if a car is parked near a nest site it can attract the attention of a male Magpie-lark who, seeing himself reflected, thinks he has an adversary in his territory and will confront his own reflection in the car windows, mirrors or paintwork.
This information was curated by a team of passionate Centennial Parklands volunteers and with the assistance of Volunteer Program and Asset staff. Find out more about our volunteer programs here.