A drawer of Magpie eggs (details) from the H.L White egg collection.
Image: Michelle McFarlane
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: Last spring we had a family of magpies nesting in our backyard. We could not see into the nest and have since wondered how many eggs there would have been and what they would have looked like.
Answer: A female Australia Magpie lays between two and six eggs in a clutch, but a pair of magpies can usually only raise two chicks on their own. In order to raise more, they need help. For magpie parents, this help comes from their young from the previous year. These older siblings assist with food collection and nest defence. Many species of birds partake in this form of cooperative breeding.
Magpies are slow breeders; they produce one clutch a year and spend about 8 months incubating the eggs and raising the chicks to independence. In contrast, introduced starlings raise up to four clutches a year.
Magpie eggs can be up to 27 x 38 mm in width and length. The egg size is dependent on the size and the health of the mother: if she is in good condition, she will lay large eggs. This in turn affects the survival chances of the young. Babies that hatch from large eggs are larger and therefore more likely to survive and thrive than those from smaller eggs.
Magpie eggs are very variable in colour. They are usually light blue or green, but can also be reddish in colour. A single colour can be spread evenly across the egg or they can be multicoloured and blotchy.
Museum Victoria has an exceptional collection of bird eggs. A majority of these were donated to the museum by Henry Luke White in 1927. H. L. White was an avid collector: his collection contains 4,200 egg clutches and includes examples from almost every bird species in Australia known at the time (including the extinct Paradise Parrot). The collection is housed in a custom-made cabinet made of Queensland Maple. There is an entire drawer dedicated to magpie eggs showing quite a variety of colours and sizes.