Fun Facts About Texas Jays
Colorful, rowdy, mischievous, and aggressive are all good words to describe the incredible species of jays we have here in the great state of Texas. Considering they belong to the same family that includes magpies, crows, and ravens, it’s not surprising that their most outstanding characteristic is their boisterous call. Combined with their stunning beauty, these wondrous birds are entertaining to watch. I will give you some easy tips to attract jays to your backyard. But first, did you know there are 4 species of jays in Texas?
Jays are incredible birds. With its stout, all-purpose beak, the jay can hammer, crack, probe and split its food. No nut is too hard to crack for this bird. If the jay has difficulty in holding and cracking a particularly tough nut, it is not unusual for the bird to wedge the nut in a log in order to get a better blow with its beak. They will eat almost anything including insects and carrion, but most of their diet consists of nuts and seeds. When an abundance of food is available, the birds buries their surplus nuts, then dig them up again when food is scarce. Brains and beauty!
Now that you know a little about jays in general, let's take a closer look at each of the four species that are found in Texas. Let’s start with the most common of the fantastic four, the Blue Jay.
The Blue Jay, with its bright blue color, black and white markings, and head crest makes it easy to identify. Three-fourths of the Blue Jay's diet consists of vegetable matter. The animal portion of its menu includes spiders, snails, salamanders, tree frogs, mice, and insects. It is among the few birds that eat hairy caterpillars, and it will even rip open cocoons to get to the pupae inside. One activity they seem to enjoy is harassing predatory birds such as herons, owls, hawks, or crows. A flock of noisy jays will surround the bird, screaming and darting. Occasionally, the jays will tease one of these predatory birds by imitating the cry of a wounded bird, but the joke can backfire. If not all the mischievous jays escape in time, one of them may become a meal for the predator.
The Green Jay is the tropical member of the foursome and my favorite. Found only in South Texas, its green, yellow, and blue plumage make it a gem for any birder or photographer. The Green Jay is a clamorous, colorful delight. Like other jays and crows, this species is an incredibly versatile forager equally comfortable at picking, pouncing, and even flycatching. Green Jays use sticks to pry up loose bark, exposing insect prey. They are among the few North American bird species known to use tools. Green Jays, like the more familiar Blue Jays, are excellent mimics. Here in Texas, they may imitate the call of various hawks to frighten away other bird species (such as Plain Chachalacas) from food they want to eat.
The third and one of my personal adversaries (this sucker is hard to catch with a camera!) of the jay family found in Texas, is the Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay. This shy and elusive bird is seen most often as a blue-gray streak flashing through the brush. In the Texas Hill Country and canyons, it can be found in pinon, juniper, and scrub oaks. A typical and often observed action of the scrub jay is its swift, graceful dive from a high vantage point into a thicket. It frequently uses bush top lookout perches and when it descends to the ground, it feeds on insects, acorns, wild fruits, and berries. It also raids the nests of small birds for eggs and young. Ick. Feeding flocks often converse in odd chuckles, as do their Blue Jay cousins; however, they are not as boisterous. Occasionally the bird also delivers the low throat rattle common to all Texas Jays. Texas Parks and Wildlife department lists five jays in Texas. The Mexican Scrub Jay has a territory about the size of my backyard, so I’m going to include it with the Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay. It looks like the Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay minus the white eyebrow.
The final member of the Jay family found in Texas is the Steller's Jay. I apologize for no photograph and it’s on my bucket list. The Steller’s Jay with its black and blue plumage and long black crest makes their home in the western yellow pine and Douglas fir, high in the Guadalupe Mountains. It has the smallest range of all the Texas Jays. Steller's and Blue Jays are the only North American Jays with crests and are also the only New World Jays that use mud to build their nests. Steller’s Jays are habitual nest-robbers, like many other Jay species. An excellent mimic with a large repertoire, the Steller’s Jay can imitate birds, squirrels, cats, dogs, chickens, and even some mechanical objects!
It surprises me to hear that some people don’t enjoy seeing Jays in their yard. They consider them bullies, picking on other birds. I could not disagree more! I love attracting Jays to my yard. They are one of my favorite birds to watch because of their array of vocalizations, intelligence, good looks, and overall temperament of a flying bad ass. Jays prefer feeders that provide large, open surfaces. They like having the ability to move and jump around, searching for the best pieces of food to take with them. I prefer a tray or a hopper feeder. Once you get your feeder, make sure you fill it with the three things jays have a hard time resisting. Raw, unsalted peanuts (with the shell), Black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn. Just make sure you have enough for a couple feedings. They seem to get upset when the food runs out!
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