You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in North America who’s never heard of the blue jay. The species, easily identified by its telltale crest and its blue, white and black feathers, can be spotted from Newfoundland to Colorado. It has been immortalized in song and has a namesake sports team in Toronto. And yet, blue jays are just the tip of jay iceberg.
Meet seven incredible jays that aren’t the blue jay.
The Steller's jay crest is a dead giveaway. (Photo: Rhonda [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)
The Steller's jay is likely the most stunning member of the jay family. This large songbird typically boasts a prominent triangular crest topping its charcoal black head, small white markings above its beak, and a deep blue body. This jay can be found in evergreen forests along the west coasts of Canada, the United States, and down past Mexico. The looks of the Pacific coast Steller's jay is somewhat different than the Rocky Mountains form of the bird. The Steller's jay can usually be found at elevations between 3,000 and 10,000 feet.
This jay lacks the blue so prominent in other birds on the list, but the bird doesn't lack heart. (Photo: Marilyn Peddle [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)
This jay can be found mostly in Canada, although the species dips down into the U.S. in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and a few other states. With its cute round head, fluffy body and short beak, this jay has been dubbed the “camp robber” by some, and is often described as fearless. The gray jay lives in northern forests year round and, unlike most other birds, begins nesting in the late winter when snow is still on the ground. To survive the winter, these jays store food during the summer, and eat everything from seeds and insects to small rodents, fungi and carrion. This is the only jay on the list not to have any blue on its body.
The colors of this jay are startlingly beautiful. (Photo: Fernando Flores [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)
For someone who has only seen a blue jay, the green jay may have the most surprising looks. Birders in the U.S. have to travel to southern Texas if they want to see the bird stateside. Otherwise, they have to travel down to Central or South America. Their habitat extends down through Peru and Bolivia. This bird is the only green jay, although it does boast some blue around its face. The green jay likes native woods and mesquite brush and eats everything from insects to lizards to the babies of other birds.
Habitat encroachment is making the Florida scrub-jay less prevalent. (Photo: JHEar1e [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)
Unfortunately, the Florida scrub-jay has been labeled as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to human development in vital habitats. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida scrub-jay keeps to small patches of sand pine scrub, xeric oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods. Those particular types of flora burn often enough to keep tree heights between 3 and 10 feet tall. The Florida scrub-jay lives in family groups that contain a breeding pair, previous offspring, and even birds that have been adopted from other families. Some nonbreeding birds can remain with their parents for years, helping the family before they venture off to find their own territory.
Western scrub-jays keep a small circle of company, with breeding pairs vs. groups. (Photo: Ingrid Taylar [CC by 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons)
Happily, this songbird is thriving in the West, occupying some of the same territory as the Steller’s jay. Aside from being blue, the two have little else in common. This blue-and-gray jay with a short bill and no crest can be found as far north as Washington stateand south to Central America. Rather than living in groups like their Floridian cousins, the Western scrub-jay sticks to breeding pairs rather than family groups. The female sits on the eggs while the male brings the female food to eat. Both take part in building their nest using twigs, grass, animal hair and moss as well as other items.
The beautiful pinyon jay. (Photo: David Menke [CC by 2.0]/Wikimedia)
The blue and gray pinyon jay can be found in the Great Basin region of the U.S., and, as the name suggests, a large portion of the bird's diet consists of pinyon pines. Unlike other birds in its family, the pinyon lacks feathers at the base of its bill. This enables the jay to push its beak into pine cones without disrupting its feathers. The pinyon jay nests in colonies and breeds in late winter. Unfortunately, although numbers are hard to gauge, it is suspected that the population has declined in recent decades.
The Mexican jay can be found in the U.S. as well as Mexico. (Photo: Alan Vernon [CC by 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons)
The Mexican jay lives primarily in Mexico, but also can be found stateside in parts of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The two populations found in the different geographies differ in egg color, nesting behaviors and even in the color of the bill in the young. The Mexican jay feeds on acorns, breaking them open by holding them with a foot against a branch and hitting the nut with its beak. The acorns can be buried in the ground where the bird will later retrieve the stored food source. The jay can also be seen on flowers searching for nectar as well as insects.
So, Mr. Blue Jay, you’re not the only jay in town. It doesn’t make us adore you any less. It just makes us appreciate your large extended family with its great similarities and differences.
How many jays have you spotted out in the wild?
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