Red-billed blue magpie

The red-billed blue magpie (Urocissa erythroryncha) is a species of bird in the crow family, Corvidae. It is about the same size as the Eurasian magpie but has a much longer tail, one of the longest tails of any corvid. It is 65–68 cm (25.5–27 in) long and weighs 196–232 g (6.9–8.2 oz).[2]

Red-billed blue magpie
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Corvidae
Genus: Urocissa
U. erythroryncha
Binomial name
Urocissa erythroryncha
(Boddaert, 1783)


The red-billed blue magpie was described by the French polymath Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon in 1775 in his Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux.[3] The bird was also illustrated in a hand-coloured plate engraved by François-Nicolas Martinet in the Planches Enluminées D'Histoire Naturelle which was produced under the supervision of Edme-Louis Daubenton to accompany Buffon's text.[4] Neither the plate caption nor Buffon's description included a scientific name but in 1783 the Dutch naturalist Pieter Boddaert coined the binomial name Corvus erythrorynchus in his catalogue of the Planches Enluminées.[5] The specimen described by Buffon had come from China but the type location was restricted to Canton by Hugh Birckhead in 1937.[6] The red-billed blue magpie is now one of five species placed in the genus Urocissa that was introduced by the German ornithologist Jean Cabanis in 1850.[7][8] The name of the genus combines the Ancient Greek oura meaning "tail" and kissa meaning "magpie". The specific epithet erythroryncha combines the Ancient Greek eruthros meaning "red" and rhunkhos meaning "bill".[9]

Five subspecies are recognised:[8]

  • U. e. occipitalis (Blyth, 1846) – northwest India to east Nepal
  • U. e. magnirostris (Blyth, 1846) – northeast India to south Indochina
  • U. e. alticola Birckhead, 1938 – north Myanmar and south central China
  • U. e. brevivexilla Swinhoe, 1874 – northeast China
  • U. e. erythroryncha (Boddaert, 1783) – central, east and southeast China, north Indochina


The head, neck and breast are black with a bluish spotting on the crown. The shoulders and rump are a duller blue and the underparts are a greyish cream. The long tail is a brighter blue (as are the wing primaries) with a broad white tip. The bill is a bright orange-red as are the legs and feet and a ring around the eye. This red can vary across its range to almost yellow in some birds.

Habits and habitat

The red-billed blue magpie occurs in a broad swathe from the northern parts of the Indian Subcontinent, and further eastwards. It ranges from the Western Himalayas eastwards into Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and through central and eastern China to southwest Manchuria, in evergreen forest and scrub in predominantly hilly or mountainous country. It has adapted to urban habitat and can be seen in large cities in China such as Beijing and Hong Kong. They nest in trees and large shrubs in a relatively shallow nest. There are usually three to five eggs laid.

Food is sought both in trees and on the ground. It takes the usual wide range of food, such as invertebrates, other small animals, and fruit and some seeds. It robs nests of eggs and also chicks. Vocal mimicry is very apparent in this species and its calls are very varied, but the most usual are a grating rattle and a high pitched whistle a little like a flute.


  1. BirdLife International (2012). "Urocissa erythrorhyncha". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. "Pirolle à bec rouge - (Urocissa erythrorhyncha) Red-billed Blue Magpie" (in French). Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  3. Buffon, Georges-Louis Leclerc de (1775). "Le geai de la Chine à bec rouge". Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux (in French). Volume 5. Paris: De L'Imprimerie Royale. p. 157-158.
  4. Buffon, Georges-Louis Leclerc de; Martinet, François-Nicolas; Daubenton, Edme-Louis; Daubenton, Louis-Jean-Marie (1765–1783). "Le geai, de Chine". Planches Enluminées D'Histoire Naturelle. Volume 7. Paris: De L'Imprimerie Royale. Plate 622.
  5. Boddaert, Pieter (1783). Table des planches enluminéez d'histoire naturelle de M. D'Aubenton : avec les denominations de M.M. de Buffon, Brisson, Edwards, Linnaeus et Latham, precedé d'une notice des principaux ouvrages zoologiques enluminés (in French). Utrecht. p. 38, Number 622.
  6. Birckhead, Hugh (1937). The birds of the Sage West China Expedition. American Museum Novitates, No. 966. New York: American Museum of Natural History. p. 13.
  7. Cabanis, Jean (1850–1851). Museum Heineanum : Verzeichniss der ornithologischen Sammlung des Oberamtmann Ferdinand Heine, auf Gut St. Burchard vor Halberstadt (in German and Latin). Volume 1. Halbertstadt: R. Frantz. p. 87.
  8. Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Crows, mudnesters, birds-of-paradise". World Bird List Version 9.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
  9. Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 150, 397. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
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