Popular magpie is plentiful in SLO County, survey finds

For many bird enthusiasts, the yellow-billed magpie is a favorite.

A recent survey by Audubon California showed that San Luis Obispo County is home to a robust population of the striking birds. Surveyors counted 438 magpies, one less than in Yolo County.

With 844 birds, Sacramento County was the magpie leader. In all, magpies were observed in 22 of California’s 58 counties. San Luis Obispo County was one of several in which flocks of more than 40 birds were observed.

With its characteristic yellow beak and long tail, the yellow-billed magpie is a quintessential California bird. It is found only in the Central Valley and the oak woodlands of the Central Coast.

Last year, birders voted the magpie the Bird of the Year in an online poll conducted by Audubon California. In spite of its popularity, the magpie is considered at risk and is on the group’s watch list.

Because its range and numbers are limited — a total of 3,607 birds were counted in the survey — the magpie is vulnerable to habitat destruction, climate change and diseases such as West Nile virus.

Ornithologists have observed that the magpie is found in some densely populated areas but is absent from other parts of its historic range. The survey was conducted June 4 through 7 by 230 volunteers.

Magpies were observed as far north as Bella Vista, just north of Redding in Shasta County, and as far south as Solvang in Santa Barbara County.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.