Australian Magpie Eggs

19 April, 2009

A drawer of Magpie eggs (details) from the H.L White egg collection.
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.

Comments (12)

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Rod & Nadja Spencer 18 August, 2013 21:52
We Have a family of Magpies which we have cared for over the last thirteen years. They are called Penguin, Queen and the latest Baby is called Grumpy. They are a delight to hear and see everyday. Australians are incredibly fortunate to have these beautiful Intelligent birds native to this country.
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Tania Anderson 9 June, 2013 10:17
I have a magpie called Billie Boy which I feed regularly. I have seen him raise 3 generations of babies which have always been 2 at a time. He comes to me when I call and takes food from my hand very gently. At times I have observed him correcting his young with a peck and they will either lay on their side or back in submission and then get up again after he turns away. Quiet often, he'll feed them shortly after that. When I first saw this I was concerned for the young, but now know that they are not hurt in any way and assume it is part of setting up the family hierarchy. Billy has attitude - protects them when needed, but likes them to know who's boss! I have not made these birds dependent in any way and it has been a pleasure to be able to observe them at such close proximity. I am moving house soon and will be sorry to lose this bond I have with Billy :( I think magpies are a pleasure and have the most beautiful warble...
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Z 8 December, 2012 10:53
Found a Magpie egg on the ground in the backyard, but didn't see the Magpie's parent. what should I do? Do i leave the egg on the ground? If thats the case will the other birds come and attck it? How do i save it If anyone knows the answer?
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Gillian McFeat 15 November, 2012 19:53
Love my magpies. Been friends with same parents for 10 years since the Canberra bush fires. They have had 16 babies since. A 3 year old has stuck around to help with 3 born last year. Sadly no babies this year. My magpies recognise my voice when I call or whistle and come to be fed through the day. Just love it when the young ones practice their songs. Can someone tell me about the variation in beaks? Some meet perfectly while others overlap.
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Lindy Cannard 2 November, 2012 19:13
We have had a pair of magpies coming to our home for the past few years, each year they bring their young chicks to meet us, this year they have 4 chicks, and now each morning we have two adults singing to us and 4 young standing behind their parents, I believe they recognize myself, husband and two boys, as the parents come right up to our feet to be fed, if some one new is visiting or tries to get close, they fly away. They even trust our Labrador, they walk right past or sit near her when they are in our backyard. I love having a family of magpies visit, and the trust they have for my family.
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lauren 14 June, 2011 12:49
how may eggs does a magpie prduce each yesr
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sean curtis 11 October, 2010 18:54
today i found 4 broken empty eggs scatterd within 3 meters on pave way no high trees above closest tree 15 meters away but we have lots of crows nesting to same as magpies do you think the crows may have stolen the magpie eggs for a feed or do the magpie parents discard the shells away from there nest to detere preditors ?
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Hamish Lawrie 22 September, 2010 12:19
Today I found what I thought was a Magpie egg. Thank you to the Museum for confirming this. After reading your description and looking at the picture I now know that my egg is a Magpie egg that a baby Magpie hatched out of.
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Jane Baker 22 December, 2009 14:52
Our resident magpies raised two chicks this year but one of the parents was badly injured in some sort of feral attack. While he convalesced under our care the juvenile from last year's unusual second nesting turned up and helped the other parent feed the two chicks. As he recovered the injured parent would share his morning mince with whichever chick was brave enough to sit on the verandah railwith him. Now mum, dad and big brother are all busy feeding two very big demanding chicks. Magpie family bonds hold over more than one gerneration. this family demonstarte it and so does another we have seen through five generations.
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Martin Loughran 15 November, 2009 23:03
We have had a Magpie family coming to our place for about 3 years now & this year they produced 3 babies which the male mostly fed. For the past month or so the young have been coming to feed on their own & we would see the male with them. Now the female has started to come back & we can hardly keep the feed up to her, is it possible that she has another clutch of eggs or even hatched some more babies. Any answers would be appreciated. Regards Mart.
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Discovery Centre 16 November, 2009 15:04

Hi Martin and thankyou for your enquiry.  We have contacted the Ornithology Collection Manager and he has advised that it is not unusual for magpies, and many other species, to breed more than once a year depending on the date of the first brood and seasonal conditions.

Sally Williams 20 September, 2009 16:50
Distressing article in today's Sunday Herald Sun 20/9/09 for any bird lover.Nigel Williamson traps swooping birds and relocates them 100 kms from their nest !! A charlatan. Charges $100's Made a cruel business of animal rescue. www.animalrescue.com.au
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