Enjoy Life with a Pair of Resident Magpie-larks
The Magpie-lark is a common bird with many different names. It is also called a Peewee, Peewit, Mudlark or Little Magpie. Its name Magpie-lark is also confusing because it is neither a Magpie nor a Lark. It is more closely related to Monarchs, Fantails and Drongos.
Whatever you call them, they’re pretty adaptable and they’ll live just about anywhere. As long as there is open space for them to look for their food, and the occasional bit of water for them to make their mud nests, they’re happy.
Dense forests and the driest of deserts are about the only places that you won’t find them. Around your place, you’ll see Magpie-larks as they visit parks, ovals, road verges, lawns and backyards.
You can help look after Magpie-larks in your Backyard
Magpie-larks find most of their food as they walk through short grass or patches of bare, soft ground. They have a distinctive walk moving their heads back and forth.
Magpie-larks love fat juicy worms, insects, caterpillars, and other soft critters. They scrounge around for small, tasty invertebrates, and will also eat spiders, small lizards, moths, and some freshwater invertebrates – you can often spot them patrolling the soft ground along the shores of creeks and swamps.
Help out Magpie-larks by letting them eat up your garden bugs for you. This will keep your insect numbers down the natural way – and it’s free!
Be a Backyard Buddy
Listen out for the Magpie-lark calling “Peewee, peewee” or “doodit doodit”. Peewee mates sing complicated duets - one sings “Peewee” and its partner responds “wit!” - and they both raise their wings above their heads as they call.
A male and female Peewee stand side by side in their favourite spot and sing a duet as a territorial display. Scientists have discovered that the more synchronised and harmonious the pair is, the more likely they are to signal a threat to other Magpie-larks.
- Their mate. When a Magpie-lark finds a mate, they usually pair for life, defend their territory together and stay in the same area together throughout the year if there is enough food around.
- A bit of water nearby so they can make or collect mud to mix with grass and other plant materials to build their big, bowl-shaped mud nest.
- Juicy insects, worms, bugs and caterpillars to eat up.
But they don't like:
- Their own reflection in a mirror or window, which they think is an ‘intruder’ into their territory and try to attack.
- Cats, which try to catch and eat them.
- Other Magpie-larks which try to encroach on their territory. Singing, calling and displaying are all part of signalling that this patch is theirs!
Be a Buddy to Magpie-larks
- Close your curtains or put something in front of your windows to prevent the Magpie-lark from seeing its own reflection and trying to attack it.
- Keep leaf litter and mulch around your garden as Magpie-larks will collect some of it to build their nests, and it will also attract insects and lizards for the Magpie-lark to eat.
- Place some clean, fresh water in the garden for the Magpie-lark to drink and use for making mud to build its nest.
- Letting your cat outdoors where it can harm birds like the Magpie-lark.
- Using chemicals and pesticides in your garden because if a Magpie-lark eats a poisoned insect it could get sick.
- Feeding wild birds as they are great at finding their own food.
Don't be surprised if Magpie-larks:
- Wave their rump and tail up and down just like the Willie Wagtail, especially when they’re mad.
- Nest in the same tree as Willie Wagtails.
- Join flocks of several thousand and migrate north in search of warmer weather during autumn and winter.
- Early European settlers named the Magpie-lark after two groups of northern hemisphere birds that they were familiar with; the Magpies and the Larks. However, they aren’t actually like either of them! They are most closely related to a group of birds from the east coast of Australia called the Monarchs. Magpie-larks are mostly seen foraging in pairs, however, outside of the breeding season, flocks of as many as a hundred or more birds may form in search of food sources.
- At 30 cm in length, Magpie-larks are smaller than Magpies.
- Magpie-lark males and females are similar from a distance but easy to tell apart closer up. Female have a white throat and males have black throats and black eye-stripes. Juveniles and immatures of either sex have the white throat of the female and the black eye-stripe of the male.
- Magpie-larks are one of the 200-odd species of bird around the world that sing in duet; each partner producing about one note a second, but a half-second apart, so it is hard to tell that there are actually two birds singing, not one.
- For its nest, the Magpie-lark gathers plant fibres and uses mud like mortar to plaster everything together. It then lines the nest with soft grass, tufts of fur, feathers or any other cosy material it can get its beak on. Nests are commonly on firm horizontal branches. It lays 3-5 eggs. Depending on conditions, breeding is usually from August to February, and the Magpie-lark lays 3-5 eggs.