A Much Maligned Bird is the Scrub Jay

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Probably the most well-known bird in the western U.S.

Western_Scrub_Jay_holding_an_Acorn_at_Waterfront_Park_in_Portland,_OR is the Scrub Jay, whose official name has been recently changed to Western Scrub-Jay. I have often heard these birds referred to as “blue jays”. Yes, they are largely blue, but just as crows are not blackbirds even though they are black birds, Western Scrub-Jays and Blue Jays are different birds. The real Blue Jay is mostly restricted to east of the Rockies and the Western Scrub-Jay to the west. So you’ll not see Blue Jays in the west.

Raucous and often traveling in small groups, scrub jays feed on insects, berries, invertebrates, seeds, acorns, and even the eggs of smaller birds, pecking through the bottom of the nest to get to them. This latter behavior is one source of their somewhat unsavory reputation. But they are very intelligent birds. They can bury acorns and remember later where they are; if they see other jays observing them burying the acorns, they will come back and hide those acorns in a new spot! The populations of jays who eat acorns as a major part of their diet tend to have heavier, stouter bills, while those that eat a lot of insects have thinner, longer bills.

Jays are songbirds, which may sound odd since their raucous calls can’t be considered songs – but many other songbirds don’t have much of a song. Being large, they also like large seeds, preferring sunflower seeds over others in a bird feeder. I have frequently observed scrub jays sweeping their bill through the bird feeder trough, picking out the sunflower seeds and scattering the rest of the seeds all over. The other birds have to descend to the ground and pick up the rejected seeds. The smaller birds are also shooed off the bird feeder by the scrub jay as it landed to pick out his favorite food in solitude.

People ask me if I have a favorite bird. No. Neither do I dislike any bird. I find them all fascinating. They are all part of the natural environment and we cannot apply our anthropomorphic point of view to bird behavior. I’ve heard disdain heaped upon jays, hawks, vultures, pigeons, sparrows, starlings, owls, and others. I have to agree to some extent to those who think House Sparrows, European Starlings, and Rock Doves are pests, because they are non-native imports that have been prolific and spread nearly everywhere. But native bird species are rarely pests. If a Black Phoebe or a Cliff Swallow nests under your eaves or a Mourning Dove raises young in your hanging flower baskets, don’t complain, just enjoy or at least endure them. We have plowed under or built over much of their environment and created, albeit inadvertently, new habitats and nesting sites. We should enjoy this natural infringement by birds. Putting up with Western Scrub Jays is far easier than dealing with barking dogs that wake you at two am or cats that use your flower box as a litter box.

1 thought on “A Much Maligned Bird is the Scrub Jay”

  1. I think scrub jays are adorable! My favorite bird species. When I worked at UCLA, I’d sit outside before work or during lunch and would toss unsalted peanuts in the shell to both the scrub jays and squirrels. The Jays are delightfully cocky. A few would even jump onto the back of my hand if I put a couple peanuts there and pick and choose (tossing the reject on there ground probably to pick up later. One time I was at an outdoor table near the coffee shop drinking coffee and tossing peanuts to squirrels when a scrub jay dive-bombed the squirrel (on the butt). Everyone around, at other tables, started laughing. Sadly, crows started taking over and I saw fewer and fewer scrubs. Happy that up here in Fresno there are quite a few still of these charming little rogues. I cannot feed them in my yard.
    because I’m now feeding (and TNR-ing) neighborhood feral/stray cats. Wouldn’t want to put the little darlings in danger! I still admire them from afar, however. FYI, I really don’t mind if cats use my flower beds as litter boxes. Love them, too!

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