The Western Scrub-Jay: One Smart Backyard Visitor
The Bird Calls Were Frantic
One morning, I was in the house when I heard loud bird calls coming from the backyard. I had no idea what type of bird it was, but it sounded very close. I went outside to see if I could figure out where the sounds were coming from. I didn't see any birds so I went back inside the house.
A few minutes later, I heard it again. I was determined to figure out the source. I looked up at the fence and the trees but found nothing. Then, something caught my eye closer to the ground on the trunk of the small pine tree.
I got a little closer and realized it was a Western Scrub-Jay. What the heck was it doing down there? I was worried about it being so low on the ground. Was it injured? I began to fret a bit over how I would capture it if it was. I pictured a very scared bird fluttering out of my reach and pine needles stuck in my hair.
Platform Feeder for Jays and Larger Birds
Three Jays to Choose From
Which Jay do you like best?
From My Avian Observation Deck
Also known as the patio.
I thought about moving closer, but decided not to. I knew if I scared the poor bird and it was injured, I'd make things worse. And then, I'd feel really bad. It was best that I find out what this bird's situation was before I terrified it with my actions.
Not one to pass up a chance at using my camera, I hurried inside to get it. I pulled a garden chair over to the edge of the cement. It was far enough away from the bird so as not to scare it. I sat there and I waited.
A couple of minutes went by before the bird began to hop around. I wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not.
I'm so glad that I decided to wait it out. My little friend wasn't injured. Judging from the small tufts of downy feathers sticking out on the side, this was a juvenile that hadn't quite got the hang of flying.
For the next few minutes, I watched it walk around the tree. Then, it worked it's way to the planter box and jumped up. It's as if it decided it was time to get off the ground.
There was much fluttering of wings and calls to parents as it hopped along the edge of the wood. I think my feathered friend knew where it was going and how it was going to get there.
A Very Clever Bird
I kept taking pictures as I watched. The Jay hopped along the edge of the small box, then kind of flew up to the larger box.
It got to the end of the large planter box. It seemed to ponder its predicament for a bit. Then, you won't believe what it did next! It hopped/flew to the ground, walked over to the tall hydrangea plant, and jumped in.
For the next few minutes my avian McGyver worked its way up the 6 foot tall hydrangea. When it got to fence level, it jumped over. The Jay walked across the fence, took a flying leap, and landed on a branch in our maple tree.
From there it was home free. I saw it move around the branches until it was completely hidden. I am not sure if there was a nest up there, but it was in a safe place. I couldn't see the bird at all!
Want to attract them to your garden?
Some folks find Jays to be a nuisance, but I think they are neat, if not a bit noisy. I don't mind their visits at all.
Western Scrub-Jays can be attracted by a common San Francisco Bay Area garden plant, the juniper. They love the berries.
Jays in general love acorns, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. Make sure your feeder has one or all of these.
They also love suet. You can even make your own suet!
Random Facts about Jays
In the spring and summer, it is common to see the Western Scrub-Jay in the San Francisco Bay Area in our suburban gardens. It is a cousin to the Stellar's Jay and the Blue Jay. They are somewhat thin with a long tail. They are about the same size as Robins. The face, head, back, wings, and tail are a deep blue. The chest and the middle area of the back are light gray. The throat is white. They have thin white coloring around their eyes, too
Once they mate, the pair will stay together throughout that year. They lay up to 5 eggs at time and only nest once a year. The incubation period is about 17 days. Their babies are gray. Their average life span is 9 years.
Their diet varies depending on the time of year. In spring, they live on fruit and insects. In fall, they switch to seeds and nuts. They will raid nests and eat the baby birds they find there. Other small animals like lizards are a part of their diet as well.
Jays are not timid bird. You'll find it being quite assertive especially when other birds are around. They are not much impressed with humans.
They have fairly good memories. They not only remember where they store food, but where other birds have stored theirs. This comes in handy because they are well known thieves.
Attracts Jays and Other Song Birds
The Three Western Scrub-Jays and Their Range
California Western Scrub-Jay
Washington, Oregon, California, and Mexico
Nevada, New Mexico, California, and Northern Mexico
Follow the Jay along the wayClick thumbnail to view full-size
Just how intelligent are they?
Did This Bird Solve a Problem?
If you had told me that this bird was going to plot how to get back up in the maple tree, I'd have told you that you've watched too many Looney Tunes cartoons. ACME doesn't deliver to my house. I truly had to see it to believe it. Scientific studies show more and more that birds, especially in the group that includes Crows and Jays, have gotten a bad reputation when it comes to their intelligence. They are smarter than we give them credit for.
I'm convince saw its predicament and figured a way out of it. How else can we explain its deliberate movements around the garden? That hydrangea is about 6 feet tall. It wouldn't be easy for someone without hands to climb it.
There's a viral video on the web showing a bird playing with a ball that it found. Studies have shown that birds recall where they've hidden food and fashion tools to help them get at food. It doesn't seem far fetched that a clever Jay might be able to size up the layout of the yard and plan its best escape route.
Attract Them With Suet
There are Times We Shouldn't Interfere with Nature
During breeding season, animal shelters and wildlife rescue facilities are inundated with baby birds that well intentioned people bring in. What they think is a distressed orphan is really a bird whose parents are close by and in control. Too many times they believe an animal to be injured or ill, when all the animal really needs is a few minutes to collect itself. They end up separating babies from parents. These birds that really don't need rescuing end up burdening those places set up to help out.
It's best to use caution before we interfere with wildlife. We can do more damage than good in some cases. Rather than acting rashly, if you feel an animal may need help, call your local wildlife center to see what the proper plan of action is. Often times, the bird is young and not fully fledged, but well taken care of by its parents even if it has fallen out of the nest. Keep a close eye, but only step in if absolutely necessary. Your actions could do more harm than good.
- Scrub-jays in California
Pictures and description of Western Scrub-Jay, Aphelocoma californica
- Western Scrub-Jay from National Geographic
Learn all you wanted to know about western scrub-jays with facts, pictures, videos, and news from National Geographic.
- Western Scrub-Jay - Aphelocoma californica
Detailed bird profile of the western scrub-jay: appearance, foods, habitat, behavior and reproduction. Includes tips for attracting western scrub-jays to your backyard.
- Western Scrub-Jay, Identification, All About Birds - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Learn how to identify Western Scrub-Jay, its life history, cool facts, sounds and calls, and watch videos. The “blue jay” of dry Western lowlands, the Western Scrub-Jay combines deep azure blue with dusty gray-brown and white. The rounded, crestless
© 2014 Melody Lassalle