Magpies Gymnorhina species
Why Magpies are pests
|Production threat||Environmental threat||Public threat|
Magpies were introduced to New Zealand in the 1860s from Australia to control pastoral insect pests. Two sub-species were introduced, the whitebacked (Gymnorhina tibicen hypoleuca) and the black-backed (Gymnorhina tibicen tibicen) magpie. Crossbreeding has occurred and they are now considered one species. Both are black and white in colour.
Magpies are widespread throughout the Waikato region. They prefer open pasture areas with nearby tall trees for roosting and nesting. They are common around farmland, bush edges, gardens and in urban areas including schools, parks and airports.
Magpies have a complex social system in which they form non-territorial or territorial groups. Magpies defend their territory by singing, aggressive posturing and fighting. This aggressive territorial behaviour makes them a pest.
They can be a considerable nuisance during the breeding season, swooping on and occasionally attacking people, especially children. Waikato Regional Council receives numerous complaints during the nesting season regarding harm caused by ‘dive-bombing’ magpies. Most complaints are in relation to urban and public parks, reserves and fields. Occasionally complaints are received in relation to private properties.
You may observe magpies swooping and dive-bombing native birds such as the kereru or tui. This could indicate these birds are trying to access a key feeding site. Magpies can affect native birds by excluding them from breeding territories. They may also prey on chicks and eggs to feed to their young. Magpie control is likely to have significant benefits to the native bird population under these circumstances.
- Black and white in colour.
- Body length between 36 and 44cm.
- Their distinctive flute-like call is usually heard early morning or evening: anecdotally described as ‘quardle, oodle, ardle, wardle, doodle’.
- Often seen in flocks but may also be seen in pairs.
- Has a long breeding season – from July until March/April.
Responsibility for control
On direction from an authorised person, all landowners/occupiers in the Waikato will control magpies and/or their nests on their property.
On direction from an authorised person upon complaint, all landowners/ occupiers in the Waikato are responsible for controlling magpies and/ or their nests on their property. Problem magpie nests on district or city council reserves and accessways should be reported to the appropriate council, who should arrange for the nests to be destroyed. Nests on Department of Conservation (DOC) land should be reported to the nearest DOC office or visitor centre.
How to control magpies
Using a variety of control methods will provide the best result.
Many traps are commercially available, including Larsen traps, the Arcane™ magpie triptrap, letterbox traps and adapted possum cage traps. These are all live capture traps that allow other birds to be released unharmed.
The Larsen style trap is very popular. It is a double caged trap with a flap door held open by a false perch which, when triggered, falls down, releasing the flap and trapping the bird. A decoy magpie is placed in one side of the trap to attract others to it. Alternatively, you can bait traps with bread, mutton fat, mirrors or a miniature disco ball, anything to attract their attention. The Larsen trap is most effective during the breeding season ( July through summer), as magpies are particularly territorial at this time.
For information on making and using Larsen traps.
Shooting and using distress call recordings
Random shooting of magpies is unlikely to achieve any significant control of the local population. For effective shooting, use a magpie distress recording. Sound files of distress calls can easily be found online.
Playing the recording of distressed magpies will attract magpies from up to one kilometre away. Use this method sparingly, as surviving birds quickly become ‘gun shy’ and wary of the distress call recording.
Camouflage the distress call player in an open area. The shooter should also be camouflaged and make good use of natural cover. Only shoot birds once they have landed – do not shoot them when they are in the air or roosting in trees. Use a .22 rifle with a sound moderator.
Large populations of magpies can be successfully controlled using the narcotic poison alphachloralose. This product, when used in concentrations of 2.5 per cent or below, will anaesthetise birds rather than kill them. Comatose birds can then be collected and humanely killed. Non-target species can be revived by placing them in a warm dark place.
A poison license is not required to use alphachloralose if used in concentrations of 2.5 per cent or less. Several commercial baits are available with grain lures for other pest species. When targeting magpies use bread covered in alphachloralose paste. Pre-feeding is recommended. This gets the magpies used to the bread and gives you a chance to estimate how many birds are present in the area, so you can tailor the amount of alphachloralose required.
Alphachloralose paste is available from most rural supply stores.
Disclaimer: Any product names mentioned are not an endorsement nor are they a criticism of similar products not mentioned.
For advice and additional information on control methods, call our animal pest staff on freephone 0800 BIOSEC (0800 246 732).