A common problem during Spring in Australia is that people find baby magpies that appear to have fallen out of the nest and been abandoned by their parents. Most people respond by “rescuing” these “abandoned” babies and taking them to the local vet so that they can be cared for. Whilst this is done by well-meaning people with the best interests of the baby magpie at heart, it is usually unnecessary and even harmful to the fledgling involved. Magpies are fiercely territorial birds (ever been swooped?) and do not tolerate new magpies in their territories. Hence, releasing hand-reared magpies is fraught with difficulty. Regrettable as we will explain, most of these “rescued” birds were in fact unwittingly kidnapped and would be been best left where they were found.
It’s Actually Normal
Magpies are ground feeders and so it is quite natural for young magpies to be on the ground. They are learning to feed themselves. Many people see a young magpie on the ground and because it doesn’t fly well and looks young, assume that the bird has fallen out of its nest and has been abandoned. This is not usually the case. The parents are usually around hunting for food themselves and have left the young bird to learn to feed itself. They will return frequently to feed it and defend it if it is in danger.
The Best Response
If you see a young magpie on the ground the best thing to do is observe it. If it doesn’t look injured and is not in any danger, leave it where it is, especially if the parents are around. If you don’t see the parents, there is still no need to be concerned, just check on the bird a bit later in the day. If you think the young bird is in danger, move it to a safe place nearby, on a branch or off the ground in the shade. Make sure the parents can still find it so they can continue to care for it.
Unless the bird is injured, it is best to leave magpie baby birds well alone, as its parents are usually close by. Young magpies that are reared by their parents have a better chance of surviving and establishing their own territories than those which are “rescued” and then have to be raised by a wildlife carer.