eWestern BirdsThe Quarterly Journal of Western Field Ornithologists
Vol. 52, No. 3
Western Field Ornithologists
Yellow-billed Magpie Population Status and Habitat Characteristics in Urban Sacramento, California
Daniel A. Airola, Lily A. Douglas, and Layla Airola
ABSTRACT: Most research on the ecology of the Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli) has been focused in oak woodlands and savannas in California’s Coast Ranges; urban and suburban populations, some of which are sizable, have received little attention. In 2020, we studied eight colonies in six parks around Sacramento and in 2021 expanded the survey to 43 sites, detecting 827 breeding magpies. Population estimates based on nest counts were generally higher than those from direct counts, and nest counts were more repeatable and efficient. Counts of recently fledged young in family groups yielded reproductive rates similar to those observed near the coast before arrival of West Nile virus in 2003, suggesting that the virus is not currently affecting nestlings’ survival. Sacramento magpies nested in the upper canopy of a wide variety of large trees, both native and non-native. They foraged preferentially in low herbaceous habitat—irrigated turf and unirrigated annual grassland that was mowed or grazed. The presence of rivers and streams influenced occupancy strongly. Colony size was strongly related to the amount of low herbaceous foraging habitat within 0.5 km of colony sites with nearby flowing water. Our results suggest that at least 4 ha of low herbaceous foraging habitat is needed to support a small nesting colony. Retention of herbaceous habitat near large trees and flowing water, plus mowing or grazing to keep herbaceous growth low, should benefit urban Yellow-billed Magpies.