California birders counting magpies this weekend

Bird enthusiasts from throughout California will be counting yellow-billed magpies Friday through Monday.

Most yellow-billed magpies are found in the Central Valley and along the Coastal Ranges, and are popular with birders and conservationists. The yellow-billed magpie lives only in California and may be experiencing a comeback after major declines due to habitat loss, West Nile Virus and pesticide use.

Last year’s magpie survey identified 3,607 birds in 22 counties. The magpie survey is notable for its simplicity and for how easy it is to participate. People are asked to look for the bird anytime during the survey period and then go online to eBird (www.ebird.org/california) to register their findings. Participants don’t need to be bird experts and they don’t need to look for birds during the entire survey period. More information on the survey is available at www.ca.audubon.org.

Audubon California is sharing data from the survey with researchers at University of California, Davis and elsewhere, who are monitoring the yellow-billed magpie and identifying ways to help grow the population. Using eBird for data collection ensures that information about the bird is fed directly to bird researchers and conservationists around the world.

The yellow-billed magpie’s range includes the Sacramento and San Joaquin valley floors and foothills, and valleys of Coast Ranges from San Francisco Bay south to Santa Barbara County. For a variety of reasons - including habitat loss, pesticide use and the West Nile Virus - the yellow-billed magpie population has found itself at risk in recent years, and it is now an Audubon Watchlist species.

Recent surveys indicate the yellow-billed magpie is coming back. People have been reporting them in their yards after a few years absence and many feel the birds are more visible in the valleys.

Voters in an online poll named the yellow-billed magpie Audubon California’s bird of the year for 2009.

-- Carol Reiter