Minor Cold: Magpies nest

July 16th, 2012
by Jo Law

Daytime temperatures continue to climb in this pentad with a highest monthly maxiumum to-date of 21.3ºC recorded on Friday July 13th at Bellambi (AWS). That evening we enjoyed dinner out on Austinmer Beach, deserted but for us and a group of keen all-male exercise practitioners. Despite the designation of ‘Minor Cold’, the air feels warm.

The Chinese Almanac features the magpies whom it says are nesting at this time. The Eurasian, European, or Common Magpies (Pica pica) are members of the Crovidea family. Like its relatives, the crows, magpies have been shown to display (human-defined) marks of consciousness including self-recognition in mirrored images, tool-use, and complex social organisation. Their mating and breeding in northern temperate regions are generally observed in spring, so perhaps their mention here in the Almanac may simply be a pre-empting of the coming season.

Named for their similarity in colouring to the European birds, the ubiquitous Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) are unrelated to their namesake. However, some argues that their social and cognitive behaviours of these long living birds (up to 25 to 30 years) are comparable to some Crovidea. Their commonly heard warbling melodies and vocalisation, which can include mimicking sounds of other bird species, dogs, horses and humans, are shown to be purposefully communicative and, in some cases, even ritualistic. Mating can begin in June in the northern and warmer parts of the country, but this does not happen until in the eight month in the rest of the country. Swooping season begins shortly after when male birds may attack passer-bys who come within a radius of 20 metres of the nest site. This behviour intensifies when chicks begin to hatch in late August, and tail off around late October when the youngsters leave the nest. The facts that magpies generally mate for life and that they are territorial make successful breeding in the population at around 14%.

Our black and white avian residents, the Gallus gallus, simply cluck away as they resume their lay in their third year. They have long opted not use the nesting box provided for egg laying, but instead reserve it for their roosting. They casually leave the eggs on the ground with a bare minimal of straw roughly shaped into a nest. Their movement needs to be observed during times when they are allowed extensive ranging. They often establish a new secret nest out in the open where clutch of eggs are sometimes found days after they were laid.

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