The Rare Yellow-billed Magpie, Only In California

by Larry on October 26, 2008

Yellow-billed Magpie all photos by Gail West

These gregarious members of the Crow (Corvidae) family can only be found in California.  I am fortunate to live in the foothills of Northern California where the Yellow-billed Magpie is a common site.  As I drove to town from home the other day, a flock (tidings) of Yellow-billed Magpies flew over the road and I was able to see their distinctive wing pattern from below.

There must have been at least 20 of these beautiful, iridescent birds heading to the top of another huge oak tree farther up the hillside opposite the large open field they were abandoning at that moment.

Being endemic to the coast ranges and central valley of California, the Yellow-billed Magpie prefers oak savanna woodland and other areas with large trees scattered across open country or farmland.  They are also found in residential areas though, needing only water, large trees for roosting and nesting, and adjoining fields or grasslands to feed.

These flashy birds, with their iridescent black and white feathers long tapered tail and yellow beak, are easy to spot as they roost and feed in flocks.  They also nest in loose colonies, the nest being a large domed affair, a three feet across, made of sticks and mud, lined with hair, grass or bark.

They build these huge nests high up (30 to 80 feet) in large valley oaks, sycamore, cottonwood or coast live oaks.  They are so large, the nests are sometimes mistaken for hawks nests.

The Yellow-billed Magpie will eat almost anything, foraging mostly on the ground for insects and worms, they will also catch flying insects on the wing and eat small mammals and carrion.  Acorns are an important food source for them in the fall as well as fruits and berries.

I you are lucky enough to see a flock of Yellow-billed Magpies you may want to grab your binoculars and observe their antics for awhile as they are truly fun to watch.  If you have never been to California, come on out, if for no other reason than to see these beautiful iridescent birds that you can find nowhere else in the world!

I want to thank Gail West for her wonderful photos of the Yellow-billed Magpie.  You can see her other photos by going to her Flickr page.

Update to this post: I have discovered an important upate to this post regarding the status of the Yellow-billed Magpie and West Nile Virus.  Please read the report from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) on this bird and its possible reclassification to the red list.  The ABC’s Bird News Network is updated as news breaks and you can find it on my Birds In The News page.

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