Piping Crow-shrike

Subject: Piping Crow-shrike
From: brian fleming <>
Date: Mon, 02 Oct 2006 11:27:49 +1000
I have been trying to get this message to Birding-aus for days but my computer skills weren't up to it. "Crow-shrike" was the vernacular name given by Gould to Australian Magpies, Currawongs and Butcher-birds. He separated the Magpies in three species, "Piping" for Gymnorhina tibicen, the Black-backed form he found in NSW, White-backed for the form he found in South Australia, and Tasmanian, and suspected another in W.A. but had no specimens to prove this. (See his Handbook). He does not record the name 'Magpie' in use by colonists at the time (1839-40), but it was certainly current - the Oxford 'Australian Words and their origin' cites a 1792 occurrence in the journal of R.Atkins (who ate it in a soup) . You can't get much earlier than that!

English-speakers call anything black and white a Magpie, whether a bird, piebald horse or bullock, or a football team. The colonists and convicts were remembering the European corvine bird, which is very different, having a long fantail and not very much white. A friend visited the London Zoo and saw an Australian Magpie there, (early1950s). He was ticked off by a bystander for not using the official "Piping Crow-Shrike" which was on the label on the cage. Incidentally 'tibicen' is latin for flautist. Gould quotes the Tasmanian colonists' name for their bird as 'Organbird' - because it sounded like an out-of-tune barrel-organ.

"Murray Magpie" is South Australian for what I call a Mudlark in Victoria and Sydney-siders call a Peewee. and the books call a Magpie-Lark. I noticed a few weeks ago that 'Macca' of the ABC's 'Australia All Over' doesn't seem to know that a Murray Magpie is not a Magpie.

South Australia and Western Australia are the only colonies (now States) which chose native wildlife as their badges - black swan for W.A. of course. The derisory expression 'Crow-eater' for a South Australian is said to derive from the badge, but may have been current from very early days. When the Adelaide team joined the AFL, it could not keep its original Magpie name and colours, so became the Crows inevitably.

Anthea Fleming

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