Scientific Name: Pica nuttalli
The scientific name of this bird, Pica nuttalli, is a nod toward the English botanist and zoologist Thomas Nuttall, known for his work Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada. After mating, a male will exhibit mate-guarding, protecting the female from mating with any other males until she lays the first egg of the clutch.
The Grieving Magpie
Recent observations have found that yellow-billed magpies may perform a funeral ceremony when one of their own passes away. Though not particularly similar to the human form, this ritual includes hopping down to the corpse of the deceased individual and loudly cawing as if they were crying over the loss. Even though it may seem somewhat crude to humans, these actions have opened theories discussing whether these birds may have feelings and emotions similar to the ones we feel.
Yellow-billed magpies are not the only animals that have been seen performing unusual rituals to mourn the death of a loved one. African elephants and chimpanzees have also been seen doing rather peculiar rituals to the bodies of their deceased and, like the magpie, have been theorized to display emotions of sadness and grief. Because all of these animals are rather gregarious and typically live in large groups, it makes sense that they appreciate the bond they share with the individuals around them and that they would feel mournful and sad after one of them passes. If not proving that animals have feelings, these funeral ceremonies at least demonstrate that the connections between our world and the animal world are much more closely related than we may have ever imagined.
The yellow-billed magpie is listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
This bird inhabits the foothills and mountains of central and northern California. Due to its tendency of nesting near water sources, these birds often come into contact with mosquitoes and are therefore common carriers for West Nile virus, which knocked out nearly 50% of its total population between 2004 and 2006.
The typical diet of the yellow-billed magpie consists of large insects such as crickets and grasshoppers; however, they will also eat small carrion (dead animal matter) as well as fruits and nuts.
The yellow-billed magpie is primarily black with a white chest, a white strip found just above the wings, and a metallic blue shimmer located near the tips of the wings. True to its name, the bill of this bird is yellow and sometimes this yellow color extends to form a yellow ring around the eye.