Sunday, October 13, 2013

Green Jay

By Alexandria Simpson

Green Jay "blue-variant". Courtesy of A. Simpson
When thinking of jays, the color that most often comes to mind is blue.  Most people are familiar with the Blue Jay or another blue-colored jay.  Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I saw my first Green Jay on a birding trip to Laguna Atascosa NWR in South Texas.  They are certainly green, a beautiful lime green reminiscent of parrots.
In case you still prefer some blue on your jay, the Green Jay does not disappoint: the crown and nape are bright blue.  Add some yellow-green to the bellies, and a black bib, eye line, and throat and you've created a Green Jay.  They seem very colorful but when viewed in their native semi-tropical habitat, they blend in amazingly well with the dappled sunshine and shade.  Males, females, and immatures look identical.
Green Jay and a "blue-variant". Courtesy of A. Simpson.

A few years ago, the Atascosa refuge had a very special jay.  Called the "blue variant" of the Green Jay", it was missing its yellow pigmentation and instead of being bright green, was a dull gray-blue.  When it stood next to a regular jay, the difference was stunning.  It was famous and highly photographed until it disappeared, presumably predated.

Interestingly, the Green Jay is the only common jay species in the Rio Grande Valley.  Nowhere else in the US or Canada can you find these birds; there are also populations in Mexico and South America.  The South Texas subspecies are colored somewhat differently from their South American relations, which are sometimes called Inca Jays.

Green Jays feeding.  Courtesy of A. Simpson.
Like other members of the Corvidae family, which includes jays, ravens, and crows, they are loud, aggressive, and curious birds.  The dinner table certainly never suffers from lack of conversation while the Green Jays are feeding!  A common spectacle, and one that proves their courage, is to see one or more perched atop a javelina, enjoying a free ride.  Studies have shown that Corvids are some of the most intelligent birds.  Green Jays are no exception to this and have been seen using sticks to poke insects out of tree bark.

Groups of Green Jays are called bands, parties, or scolds.  They are mostly family groups with the young from the previous year help out with this year's chicks.  Once the chicks are two years old, they are forced to leave and start a family of their own.

Green Jay perched on a Javelina.  Courtesy of A. Simpson
Green Jays are some of the most interesting birds to watch, especially when they cock their heads at you inquiringly.  Their beautiful plumage and loud, aggressive behavior provide plenty of entertainment.  If you've never had been able to view these birds in action, I hope you get the chance to someday.  They may not be blue, but they certainly are amazing birds!

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