Bird GuideCrows, Magpies, JaysYellow-billed Magpie

At a Glance

A bird of open country in California's central valleys. While its Black-billed relative lives across Europe, Asia, and North Africa, as well as western North America, the Yellow-billed Magpie lives only in California -- in an area about 500 miles from north to south and less than 150 miles wide. Within this limited region, Yellow-billeds nest in colonies in groves of tall trees.
Crows, Magpies, Jays, Perching Birds
Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Direct Flight, Flap/Glide, Hovering

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Mostly a permanent resident. Rarely wanders away from breeding areas, perhaps most often in winter.


16-18" (41-46 cm). Unmistakable in its range. Like Black-billed Magpie but a bit smaller, with bright yellow bill, variable yellow skin near eyes.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Blue, Green, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Broad, Fingered, Rounded
Tail Shape
Long, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A raucous qua-qua-qua and a querulous quack.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising
Call Type
Chatter, Chirp/Chip, Raucous, Scream, Whistle


Stream groves, scattered oaks, ranches, farms. Most numerous in open oak savanna and where riverside groves of oaks, cottonwoods, and sycamores border on open country such as pastures or farmland.



5-8, usually 7. Olive-buff, marked with brown or olive. Incubation is by female, about 18 days. Male brings food to incubating female.


Both parents feed young. Time to fledging not well known, but parents may continue to feed young for several weeks after they leave nest. 1 brood per year.


Omnivorous. Diet varies with season, but year-round may average about 30% plant material, 70% animal material (mainly insects). May feed heavily on acorns in fall and winter, cracking them open by pounding with bill; also eats carrion in winter. Eats many grasshoppers in late summer. When foraging on ground, may use bill to flip over cow dung, wood chips, etc., to look for food. Magpies also steal food from each other and from other animals. Sometimes cache food items (such as acorns) in shallow holes in ground, tree crevices, etc


Nests in small colonies. Pair formation may begin in fall, although birds remain in flocks during winter. Main courtship ritual involves male feeding female. Nest: Both sexes build nest, placing it far out on limb high in tree (usually 40-60' above ground). Nest often built on top of mistletoe clump, and even if not, may resemble such a clump from a distance. Nest is bulky domed structure (2-3' in diameter) with entrance on side, made of sticks and twigs. Interior of nest has base usually made of mud, lined with fine plant materials.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Surveys suggest population declines in recent decades. Has disappeared from some former areas of occurrence. Because of its limited range and specialized habitat requirements, climate change could pose a serious threat.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Yellow-billed Magpie. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Yellow-billed Magpie

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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