Yellow-billed magpie

Yellow-billed magpie

Yellow-billed magpie, California magpie

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Pica nutalli

The yellow-billed magpie (Pica nuttalli), also known as the California magpie, is a large bird in the crow family that is restricted to the U.S. state of California. It inhabits the Central Valley and the adjacent chaparral foothills and mountains. Apart from its having a yellow bill and a yellow streak around the eye, it is virtually identical to the black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia) found in much of the rest of North America. The scientific name commemorates the English naturalist Thomas Nuttall.



Biogeographical realms
Yellow-billed magpie habitat map
Yellow-billed magpie habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

The yellow-billed magpie is gregarious and roosts communally. There may be a cluster of communal roosts in one general area made up of a central roost containing many birds and several outlying roosts with fewer.

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Yellow-billed magpie flocks are known to engage in funeral-like behavior for their dead. When a magpie dies, a gathering of them congregates around the deceased bird where they call out loudly for 10-15 minutes.

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Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

These omnivorous birds forage on the ground, mainly eating insects, especially grasshoppers, but also carrion, acorns and fruit in fall and winter. They are attracted to recently butchered carcasses on farms and ranches. They pick through garbage at landfills and dumping sites, and sometimes hunt rodents.

Mating Habits

The yellow-billed magpie prefers groves of tall trees along rivers and near open areas, though in some cities they have begun to nest in vacant lots and other weedy places. A pair of birds builds a dome-shaped nest with sticks and mud on a high branch. Nests may be 14 meters above the ground and are sometimes built far out on long branches to prevent predators from reaching them. They nest in small colonies, or occasionally alone. Even when nesting close to other birds they may exhibit some territorial behavior. These birds are permanent residents and do not usually wander far outside of their breeding range.

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Extra-pair copulation is not uncommon among yellow-billed magpies. After mating, a male will exhibit mate-guarding, preventing the female from mating with other males until she lays the first egg. The clutch contains 5 to 7 eggs which are incubated by the female for 16 to 18 days. Both parents feed the nestlings a diet of mostly insects until fledging occurs in 30 days.

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The IUCN classifies the bird as a vulnerable species. The Nature Conservancy places it in the vulnerable category. Besides West Nile Virus, threats include loss of habitat and rodent poison. The bird has a limited area of distribution but is widespread throughout the area and still common in many places.


1. Yellow-billed magpie Wikipedia article -
2. Yellow-billed magpie on The IUCN Red List site -

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