Maggie Feeding his Youngster

The Australian Magpie is famous for its beautiful singing and is somewhat notorious for the swooping-attack behaviour of a minority of their number in the vicinity of nests with eggs or young.  Magpies are a highly intelligent and social bird, and will readily befriend those who take the time to interact and develop trust with them. Less well known is the attentive and selfless parenting they give their young.

Around Apollo Bay (on the southern coast of Australia) magpie communities are plentiful. They tend to spend their life in and near their chosen territory.  Their contribution to the morning birdsong is a joy.  Readers of this blog have met Maggie before, a male magpie with whom I have developed a friendship.  Being spring, Maggie has a youngster in tow again, learning the ropes and being spoilt by Dad with food and regular orientation tours of their territory.  I have known Maggie for a few seasons now, and he boldly and engagingly takes food from my hand. He will also come to me when I call if he is in the neighbourhood.

I keep specially prepared food morsels in the fridge, which Maggie regularly enjoys. But with junior in tow, he will invariably give the first one or two offerings to his skinny and rowdy sidekick who is nearby but not too close, squawking, flapping his wings and holding his beak wide open waiting for food to be inserted.

This sequence of photos captures this routine on our deck a couple of days ago.

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Maggie arrives alone on the rail around the deck, with a familiar expectant look.
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Out of frame to the right was Liz, with a supply of little delicacies for magpies.  Maggie understood completely that a snack was about to be offered.
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Maggie is never rushed when taking food from us. In fact, once he has a morsel in his beak he will often dally, looking at us and moving around very close to us, as if socialising briefly.
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The scrawny and noisy juvenile flew up from the grass beside the neighbouring creek once Dad had the food in his beak, and the father flew/jumped nimbly  from the one rail to another to deliver it.
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There was no need to ask if the youngster was hungry.
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The low risk food transfer option is taken – the food is not placed between the beak tips of the recipient, with the attendant high risk of it being dropped.
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The morsel is not just placed in the mouth…..
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….but is forced in as far as it can go without actually being swallowed….
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…giving the young bird no real option but to swallow it.
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The morsel was quickly swallowed, and the open-beak squawking was briefly repeated until it became clear that the father was not in possession of a second offering (as occurs on some occasions).
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A fleeting moment of mutual satisfaction….
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…then the request for food is repeated.
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So both shifted their focus back to Liz who was standing nearby with the food.  One more tidbit was transferred to junior, and finally the father received a third piece which he ate.
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Not a magpie. But this beautiful king parrot (another local who frequents the mature eucalypts lining Milford Creek) arrived and appeared a bit interested in the magpie food routine, but not interested enough to overcome his inhibitions and let us close to him (they have quite a different diet). This was taken with a zoom lens.

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