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Evolution at work?

March 6, 2016

Black backed magpie DSCN9589The Australian Magpie is a well-known bird distributed across most of mainland Australia and Tasmania. It consists of one species Cracticus tibicen but has three recognised forms: the Black-backed Magpie (pictured left) of which there are four races, the White-backed Magpie (pictured below right) of which there are three races and the Western Magpie. Each race is distinguishable by different black and white patterning. The races easily hybridise, forming many intermediate patterns.


White backed magpie DSCN2919-001
In southern Victoria (including the King Parrot Creek Valley) the nominate race is the White-backed Magpie (Craticus tibicen tyrannica). However the avid twitchers among us and those who have run the gauntlet of swooping magpies when getting to their washing lines in Spring will also have observed Black-backed Magpies, even though their typical range is further north.

Driving along the King Parrot Creek last week I noticed this magpie (picture below), which doesn’t seem to fit any of the recognised colour forms. I am calling it the Whiter-than-white-backed Magpie (Craticus tibicen ronlitians). It is not an albino, as albinism is the total lack of colouration and this bird has dark eyes and Whiter backed magpie DSCN8752patches of black. But it is much whiter than any magpie I have seen before.

Bearing in mind the theory of evolution and the survival of the fittest, and relating this to the dismal form of the Collingwood Football Club over recent years, maybe this magpie represents the next step in the slow evolution to a more successful bird … maybe a (white) Swan. Often seen on football ovals in Sydney of course.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2016 3:19 pm

    Fascinating! I have never seen a “whiter-than-white-backed” magpie. We have the black-backed magpies around the house (Limestone), although the family trying to move in on their territory appear to be white-backed.

    • ronlit permalink*
      March 6, 2016 6:21 pm

      I don’t think the home ranges are definitive, especially where we all live which is the cross-over region. Still, its interesting to watch the different races stake their turf.


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