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Piping shrike facts for kids

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Flag of South Australia
Flag of South Australia featuring the piping shrike

The piping shrike is the emblematic bird that appears on South Australia's flag, State Badge and Coat of Arms. The bird appears "displayed proper" with its wings outstretched and curved upwards. Although the image of the piping shrike is readily identified with South Australia, the bird in its own right has never been formally adopted as a faunal or bird emblem of the state. The term piping shrike for this species of Australian magpie is correct, yet uncommon. The term piping shrike is commonly mistaken to refer to the magpie-lark, which is incorrect.


The piping shrike first appeared on the Governor's ensign in 1903, and was also on the State Badge which was proclaimed in 1904. The original reports credited it to H. P. Gill who was the director of the School of Arts, with some input and critique from the Governor General Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson. The nephew of Robert Craig of the School of Arts claims that he was solely responsible for the original design. A similar argument is made by the relatives of the Adelaide artist Frances Jane Warhurst who claim that she based it on the eagle on the seal of the Prussian consul, a close friend of hers. There are also reports of a later version also credited to Gill in 1910. The badge design, which set the bird against a backdrop of the yellow risen sun of Australian Federation, was incorporated into the state flag (1904) and the Coat of Arms (1984).

Identification of the bird

Because the name piping shrike is not used to identify any bird, there has been some confusion over what bird it represents. While some think it resembles the magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca), the original reports specify that it is based on the Australian magpie, and government sources specify the subspecies as the white-backed magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen leuconota). The connection of this bird to the name piping shrike can be seen in this early observation by explorer Charles Sturt in the 1840s:

"GYMNORHINA LEUCONOTA GOULD., The White-backed Crow Shrike. This bird is somewhat larger than, and very much resembles a magpie, but the proportion of white is greater, and there is no metallic or varied tint on the black feathers as on the European bird. In South Australia it is a winter bird, and his clear fine note was always the most heard on the coldest morning, as if that temperature best suited him. All the species of this genus are easily domesticated, and learn to pipe tunes. They are mischievous birds about a house, but are useful in a garden. I had one that ranged the fields to a great distance round the house, but always returned to sleep in it."
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