Yellow-Billed Magpie (Pica nuttali)

by Emily Anderson

What? A yellow-billed magpie is a clamorous bird in the blackbird family. It has a large band of white that wraps from its belly up to its shoulders. They have shimmery-blue backs, wings, and long tails to match. They also have a black head and a yellow beak.

Where? The Yellow-billed magpie is only native to California. They are inclusive to an area that stretches about 500 miles long and 150 miles wide in the central, coastal ranges and Sierra mountain range of California. You can find them most commonly near oak woodlands, agriculture fields, and orchards. They are virtually identical to their relative, the black-billed magpie, the main difference being the yellow mouth. These black-billed family members also populate California, but are extensive through the rest of the country as well as through Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

Diet? Following an omnivorous diet, these birds snack on about 30 percent plant material and 70 percent animal material (being mostly insects). Acorns are a popular meal in the fall and winter, in which they use their beaks to break the acorn open. Grasshoppers are popular meal for them to eat in the summer. These rowdy and clamorous birds are known to steal food from one another and from other animals.

Threats? Fire season and urbanization often destroy habitats and prevent birds from accessing vital landscapes that they need. Heat waves also affect the young birds.

Fun facts!

  • John James Audubon named Yellow-billed Magpie “Corvus nutalli” in respect of fellow naturalist Thomas Nuttall, who collected early specimens near Santa Barbara, California.
  • The Yellow- billed Magpies have been seen pecking the backs of the mule deer!
  • The birds have large nests that are usually perched high between 40-60’, usually on top of mistletoe clumps. They build their nests out of sticks and twigs but build the base out of mud and fine plant materials.

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All About the Yellow-billed Magpie