Yellow-Billed Magpie

We have a lot of Yellow-Billed Magpies in the Santa Barbara County in California.  When you are around these Magpies you’ll notice two things right away.  First, they are large, striking birds, from 16-18″ long.  Secondly, they are extremely smart. Yellow-Billed Magpie|Los Alamos Park|Los Alamos, CA   While you watch them, they keep a good eye on you too, especially when you are eating!  They are very opportunistic and seem to work in pairs.  Within seconds of vacating a picnic table, they will check it out and call loudly back and forth.


The Yellow-Billed Magpie has, as its name suggests, has a yellow bill and also a bare yellow skin patch behind its dark eye. The size of this yellow patch varies in size from bird to bird. Its head, breast and underparts are iridescent blue-black with a white belly and shoulders. You will see large white patches on its wings which flash in the light as it flies.  The Yellow-Billed Magpie also has long wedge-shaped tail which is longer than its body and is also iridescent blue-black. The legs and feet are black and the sexes are similar in appearance.  The juvenile lacks the eye spot.


The Yellow-Billed Magpie is the only species of bird that is restricted to California.  It does not venture into the Black-Billed Magpie’s area even though the birds are related. The Sierra Nevada Mountains seem to form a natural barrier to keep the two apart.  You will find the Yellow-Billed Magpie in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, and also in the valleys of the Coastal ranges from San Francisco to Santa Barbara Counties. The Yellow-Billed Magpie prefers oaks and open country near heavy brush.  They are often seen by streams, ranches and farms, and open fields.


Yellow-Billed Magpies are very intelligent and learn quickly. Although they are boisterous, they  are shy and secretive when they sense danger. They are not wandering birds and stay in the same area most of the year.  After nesting it is common to find them roosting and feeding in loose flocks of up to 20 birds. At that time you will find them calling and socializing together. They are very vocal with a call that sounds like a descending whine.  They also give loud, harsh “clucking” noises.  They feed by walking (more like strutting), running and hopping on the ground.  They eat acorns, insects, carrion, fruit, berries and garbage, holding the food with their feet as they peck at it.  They are also known to take nestlings of other birds to feed their own. You might find them storing extra food in hole they dig in the ground with their beaks. They are known to sometimes work collectively to mob predators.

Breeding and Nesting

The Yellow-Billed Magpie’s nest is hard to see. It is used year after year and most often found in oak trees overgrown with mistletoe. The nest is found in the upper branches of the tree.  It is a very large dome of sticks with an entrance on each side. Magpies nest in loose colonies. The female lays 5-8 olive colored eggs spotted with brown. She does the incubating with the young fledge within 3-4 weeks after hatching. They forage with the adults and will form into large flocks with the adults in the winter.

Photo Gallery Yellow-Billed Magpie