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Birds of the Western Slope Oct. 12, 2016

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Photo© Bill Schmoker Scrub Jay

Scrub Jay

Here comes one . . . a swift flash of blue is all I can see. I know that it was a scrub jay because Dave Gallinat called me to say that they were eating everything in sight. So I now sit still, waiting for another bird. The sunlight is bright, there's little breeze and it's a lovely day.

And here's another bird! Now I get a better look . . . brilliant blue back and a grayish breast, a blue head with dark legs and bill. It's trying to make like a leaf -- but I can see its long tail! My bird is hopping around the upper branches . . . ah-ha! It's found an almond! The bird pecks at it, loosens the fruit and picks it up. Now this takes some arranging! The bird flips the almond up and then down, and then grasps it with the bill. All set? Yes, and off goes the bird. I wait patiently for another scrub jay. There's another flash of blue but it's gone before I can determine which way it was going!

These common jays often come in groups and they're opportunists. They eat whatever they can find. But more fascinating is their habit of "caching" (pronounced /kash/ or hiding the food for the future). At home, our Lewis' woodpeckers take the food and lever it into the bark of our cottonwood trees, but Dave doesn't know where these jays are caching theirs! It must be a big pile. But if the bird is aware of anyone (avian or human), it will wait a bit and then "re-cache" its treasure.

These birds belong to a family known as Corvids which includes all of the jays, the nutcracker, magpies, crows and ravens. The family is noted for its extraordinary intelligence (think of Aesop's fable of the crow and the water pitcher). And research is on-going with a lengthy treatment on Wikipedia. Birds adapt to their habitat and so what are minor variations to us humans is of great importance in the natural world. The usually drab colored female decides which mate is the best primarily by his plumage. Our scrub jays seem to be in the group Aphelocoma woodhouseii from the Greek aphel (meaning plain) plus koma meaning hair (some of these birds have no crest). And Woodhouse (1821-1904) was a physician, naturalist, and explorer who collected in Colorado. Here comes another scrub jay!

Read more from:
Surface Creek
Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn
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