What I grew up in New Zealand thinking of as a magpie is nothing like the magpies I see here in Wales, which is not really surprising as they are totally different species and the New Zealand bird is actually Australian. Confused?
The bird that lives in Britain is the European magpie (Pica pica) (pictured above) and is a member of the corvid family, a relative of crows, rooks and jackdaws. The bird that lives in New Zealand is Gymnorhina tibicen, one of the nine species of Australian magpie (there were thought to be two Australian species in New Zealand but this is now in doubt).
The Australian birds are called magpies because of their physical resemblance to the European birds – it was quite common for British settlers to name birds, animals and plants after similar ones ‘at home’. Australian birds from Tasmania and Victoria were introduced into several areas of New Zealand in the 1860s and 1870s by local Acclimatisation Societies to control pasture pests like grass grubs, and their supposed importance to New Zealand agriculture was the reason they were afforded legal protection till 1951.
The magpies in New Zealand can be very aggressive birds, occasionally attacking both animals and humans that stray too close to their nests during the breeding season, though their nests are usually built high up in tall trees so their attacks are, in fact, unwarranted.