What Baby Magpies Eat In The Wild And While In Care


view from above of a eurasian magpied feeding chicks in the nest

If you are searching for what baby magpies eat, you have likely found one abandoned or injured. This article has all the information you need about what baby magpies eat. After reading this you can make an informed decision about whether or not to feed any bird in your care. All the information in this article was sourced from qualified animal carers and other bird experts.

Baby Magpies in the wild eat earthworms, crickets, grasshoppers, beetle larvae, spiders, ants, and other invertebrates. When being cared for by professional animal carers, they will be fed live crickets, mealworms, or a special slurry for insectivores mixed with high-quality raw beef mince.

Continue reading to learn more about what baby magpies eat in the wild and while in care. This article is not designed to be a how-to for caring for baby magpies. You should always take any bird to a qualified animal carer and I provide links to various care providers later in the article.

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What Do Magpies Eat In The Wild?

Australian Magpies

Australian Magpies are insectivores which means they feed on insects, worms, and other invertebrates. They will also take small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, and small birds or mammals. They have also been known to feed on carrion (dead animals) and also grain.

Australian Magpie

Studies done on the diets of Australian magpies found they will eat over 140 different items. The table below is a summary sourced from Australian Magpie – Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird by Gisela Kaplan.

FOOD TYPE

EXAMPLES

Plant Matter

seeds, grains, dicotyledons, tubers, figs, walnuts, prickly pears

Invertebrates

earthworms, snails, millipedes, cockroaches, cockroach eggs, mantids, grasshoppers, crickets, phasmids, cicadas, antlions, beetles, beetle larvae, leaf beetles, weevils, ground weevils, moths, pupae, caterpillars, armyworms and larvae, bees, ants (at least 8 varieties), crustaceans, spiders, and spider egg sacks, scorpions

Reptiles/Amphibians

frogs, skinks, small dragons

Mammals

mice, small rodents, meat scraps

Other

bird eggshells

The curious nature of the Australian Magpie – image by Barry Callister Photography.

Are magpies crows? Find out in this Birdwatch World article.

Eurasian Magpies

Eurasian magpies are omnivorous which means they will feed on a variety of both plants and animals. They are mainly carnivorous scavengers, feeding on carrion at any opportunity. Their diet varies depending on their location.

A Eurasian Magpie with a wasp – image by Neil Bowman from Getty Images.

Invertebrates make up a large portion of their diet, such as flies, caterpillars, spiders, worms, and beetles, especially Coleoptera beetles.

They will also take small frogs, lizards, bird eggs, and nestlings. Very rarely, they will take adult birds and have been seen preying on Common Swifts. They have even been known to prey on young rabbits.

A Eurasian Magpie flying off with a small rodent – image by Denja1 from Getty Images.

Seasonal berries, seeds, and fruits also feature in their diet, as do food scraps scavenged from picnic sites, parks, and refuse bins.

What Do Magpies Feed Their Young?

Magpie nestlings receive a rich and varied diet that is fed to them by both of their parents. Earthworms are a frequent food item; these do not provide any nutritional value but may provide fluids.

An Australian Magpie with a worm – image by Ken Griffiths from Getty Images.

Magpies do not drink water until they have fledged and perhaps not for several weeks after they have fledged. Earthworms may provide the hydration the young birds need.

Scarab beetle larvae also feature on the menu, as do other insect larvae as they would be high in protein. The baby’s parents will dismember scarab beetle larvae before feeding them to the fledglings as the pincers on their heads can deliver a strong bite.

Scarab Beetle larvae – image by Vikas Kumar from Getty Images.

In my research, I could not find much evidence of study that has been done into exactly what adult magpies feed their nestlings. There does however seem to be some order to what they feed them. They seem to instinctively know which foods to give their young at various stages of growth.

This is something that humans have not been able to get right when caring for fledgling birds. The diet provided to hand-raised birds inevitably lacks the proper nutrients they require for their growth. And that is not the only issue with feeding wild birds; I’ll go into more detail about this later in the article.

Let Nature Take Its Course

Before I discuss the reasons why feeding wild birds may not be a good idea, I want to touch on the act of taking them from the wild in the first place.

A lot of people still believe that if they find a fledged bird looking helpless on the ground that it must have “fallen from the nest” or have “been abandoned.” This is not necessarily the case.

Magpie fledgling

If you ever find a young bird on the ground, try to resist your human instinct to help or intervene. Stand back as far as you can where you can still see the bird and just watch for a while. Chances are, you will eventually see an adult bird tend to the young one you thought to be helpless or abandoned. You may have to wait up to an hour or perhaps more for this to happen so be patient.

Most times, the adult birds will be off somewhere finding food for the fledgling and once you have left the area, they will return. If you feel you have to help, gently pick the bird up and place it under the cover of a bush or undergrowth where it will be safer from predators until its parents return.

What to feed a Baby Bird - What do ...
What to feed a Baby Bird - What do baby birds eat - Homemade Baby Bird Diet

Many species, including magpies, will fledge before they can fly. They will spend some time on the ground with their parents learning to forage and building their flight muscles before they are actually able to fly and find food for themselves.

An Australian Magpie feeding a fledgling – image by tracielouise from Getty Images Signature.

I know it’s hard not to step in and help when they look so cute, fluffy, and helpless. However, it is best to let nature take its course wherever you can.

Why You Should Avoid Feeding Baby Birds

As I have already mentioned, it is not always a good idea to feed wild baby birds. In this section of the article, I’m going to explain a couple of reasons why.

Firstly, there is the issue of the bird not getting the nutrients it needs to grow strong and healthy. As hard as you try, you are never going to be able to match the dietary needs of a young magpie the same way its parents can.

Feeding Magpie

Adult birds have centuries of built-in programming that enables them to know exactly what their young need to eat and when they need to eat it.

In her book Australian Magpie – Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird, Gisela Kaplan mentions comparing the weights and beak lengths of birds she was hand-rearing to those of wild magpies.

She found that hand-raised magpies consistently had shorter beak lengths than wild-raised birds. This suggested that the man-made diet lacked ingredients that were crucial to the bird’s development.

Secondly, there are behavioral traits the birds are missing out on while being in the care of a human being.

Find out why you should not feed bread to wild birds in this Birdwatch World article.

An Australian Magpie and fledgling on the ground – image by Cezary Wojtkowski from Getty Images.

Fledgling magpies are fed by their parents and helpers for 3 months after leaving the nest. During this time, they learn vital skills about how to forage, find, and eat food in the wild. Birds being hand-raised are missing out on learning those crucial survival skills.

Birds rehabilitated by humans, fed on slurry and mince or meal worms served on a plate, usually die within a month or two prior to being released back into the wild.

They need their food to be presented to them in a way that mimics how they’d find it in nature. This is why putting a bird into the hands of a qualified wildlife carer is so important.

How To Find Help For Baby Magpies

If you find a baby magpie that you determine to be hurt in some way or you cannot see its parents anywhere, you should get it to a wildlife carer right away. Below you will find details for various organizations in Australia and the UK.

Wildlife Carers Australia

State/Area

Oranisation

Phone

Web

VIC

Australian Animal Rescue

0430 883 083

Nationwide

Wildlife Rescue Australia

1300 596 457

NSW

WIRES

1300 094 737

VIC

Wildlife Victoria

(03) 8400 7300

SE QLD


Wildcare

(07) 5527 2444

QLD

RSPCA

1300 ANIMAL

1300 264 625

Far North QLD

(Cassowary Coast Cardwell to Innisfail) 

Mission Beach Wildcare

0439 687 272

Far North QLD

(Cardwell to Cape York)

Far North Queensland Wildlife Rescue

(07) 4053 4467

QLD

(Sunshine Coast)

Wilvo's

(07) 5441 6200

Far North QLD

(Atherton Tablelands)

Tablelands Wildlife Rescue Inc.

(07) 4091 7767

NT (Darwin)

Darwin Wildlife Sanctuary

0473 992 581

NT (Darwin)

Wildcare NT

0408 885 341 or

(08) 8988 6121

NT (Alice Springs)

Wildcare NT

0419 221 128

NT (Kathrine)

Wildcare NT

0412 955 336

SA

SA Fauna Rescue

(08) 8289 0896

WA

Wildcare WA

(08) 9474 9055

TAS

Bonorong Sanctuary

0447 264 625

Wildlife Carers UK

Oranisation

Phone

Web

Wildlife Aid Foundation

01372 360404

RSPCA (Norfolk)

0300 123 0709

RSPCA (East Sussex)

0300 123 0723

RSPCA (Cheshire)

0300 1234 999

RSPCA (Somerset)

0300 123 0721

St. Tiggywinkles

01844 292292

Three Owls Bird Sanctuary and Reserve

07973 819389

Help Wildlife UK

This is a fantastic online searchable directory for wildlife carers. Simply enter your location and it brings up a list and map of local carers.

What To Do If You Can’t Find Help Right Away

If you have found a sick or injured baby bird and can’t find a carer immediately, this section will help you with some temporary care solutions. As I have already mentioned, it’s not a great idea to feed wild birds but if you have to try and keep one alive until you can get it to professional care, here’s what to do.

The following information was sourced from a phone call with a WIRES representative and also from correspondence with Gisela Kaplan the author of the magpie book I have referenced at various stages in this article.

The first step is to place the bird gently into a dark, quiet, warm place. You can wrap it in a towel, or place it into a ventilated box or container to keep it safe and warm.

DO NOT FEED OR GIVE WATER TO THE BABY MAGPIE. I know I am stressing this a lot but it is important for many reasons. A baby bird can drown if given water. You also have no idea of any internal injuries the bird may have which could make eating fatal.

The best thing you can do for the bird at this stage is to keep it safe and warm and monitor its condition.

What Do Wildlife Carers Feed Baby Magpies

Australian Magpies

When baby magpies are in care, they are fed a special diet that is designed to be as close to their natural diet as possible. Below are some examples of what wildlife carers will feed them:

  • Live insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, and similar invertebrates.
  • Mealworms
  • Wombaroo Insectivore Rearing Mix – this is a powder that is mixed to create a slurry and then mixed with minced meat and perhaps some breadcrumbs. The resulting mixture can be formed into little grub-sized rolls and fed to the fledglings.

A great resource for Australian wildlife of all types and their natural diets is Let nature feed itself from the WIRES website.

Eurasian Magpies

The following foods were listed on the Three Owls Bird Sanctuary and Reserve website as “emergency bird feeds.” I would not think these are things that carers would necessarily feed birds they are rehabilitating, most likely more what you could feed one in the absence of a qualified carer.

  • Dried dog food soaked in water until soft and spongy.
  • Fish or meat brawn
  • Raw red meat or chicken cut up into small portions or minced. (Avoid liver, sausage or bacon).
  • Cheese
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Small pieces of bread

Conclusion

There really is no substitute for a parent bird when it comes to raising healthy chicks. While we have a strong instinct to help wild animals, we should take a step back and let nature do what it does.

A Eurasian Magpie feeding chicks in the nest – image by Vassiliy Vishnevskiy from Getty Images.

In this article, you have learnt that abandoned baby magpies are not always what they appear to be. More often than not, they may simply be awaiting the return of their parents who will have some food for them.

Even if the bird has been abandoned or ejected from the nest, there could be a very good reason for this. Birds seem to have an innate sense for telling if their offspring have any disease or developmental problem that will prove fatal. A lot of birds ejected from nests have later been found to have terminal issues of some kind.

You have also learnt quite a lot about the diet of magpies in this article. If you choose to learn more, pick up a copy of Gisela Kaplan’s book Australian Magpie – Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird.

Gisela also suggested this book to me The Food Of Australian Birds 2: Passerines by Barker RD, Vestjens WJM (1990).

Thank you for reading this post today. There are many more articles packed with interesting bird, bird watching, and bird photography facts on the Birdwatch World website. Please browse more before you leave.

References


barrycallisterphotography

Barry is a bird photographer and bird watcher with over 7 years of experience. He runs his own YouTube channel about photography and promotes his nature photography on his personal website barrycallisterphotography.com.au.

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