California, due to the virtue of its size and location, is blessed with a number of birds that are difficult to find outside of the state. This helps make it the prime birding location that it is, but that's not all we have. We can also boast not one but TWO true endemics that are neither found in Mexico or any other states. How many other continental states can claim this? Florida, with its own scrub jay? I think that's it.
Yellow-billed Magpie is the endemic of the day, since I haven't seen Island Scrub-Jay in years. Magpies can be found pleasuring birders (strictly visually and audibly, of course) from Santa Barbara County north to Shasta County. Unlike their Black-billed relatives who dwell in the lands of snow and sage, Yellow-billeds are closely tied to low elevation oak woodlands and select agricultural areas.
Although still common in many areas, it is suspected that West Nile Virus has killed off a huge number of these birds, as much as half of their entire population at one point. We can only hope this endemic epidemic does not escalate.
Both Black-billed and Yellow-billed Magpies are known to participate in "funeral behaviors", where members will congregate at the body of a recently deceased bird, preen the deceased's feathers, make a lot of vocalizations and even deposit fresh vegetation next to the corpse. Chimps and elephants are also known for funeral behaviors (which they do differently, of course), but its pretty cool that our humble magpie is known for its expression sessions.
I have no doubt that, if it were able to, a Yellow-billed Magpie would pour out a 40 oz. for a fallen flock member.
It has been extirpated in some parts of its range, but magpies have had a stable population for decades until West Nile arrived in California. Hopefully the remaining birds are more resistant to the virus. The peak of their decline was in 2004-2006; things seem to have mellowed for them in the following years. Think of all the magpie funerals that went down back then...whole flocks must have gone to forage to that Great Oak Tree In The Sky.
All photos were taken on the western edge of Davis, CA.