[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: This Blue Jay is No Blue Jay | 02-14-2013
Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Clear
Clear
75°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
July 28
1938 - Newhall Tunnel cut away, replaced by Sierra Highway [story]


Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Feb 14, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugIt is blue and it flies, but it is not a bluebird or a blue jay. Call it a Western scrub jay and you will become part of an elite group of bird watchers and regarded as a bird expert by all of your neighbors.

What does “scrub” stand for?

Scrubby plants that grow in the chaparral are perfect territory for the scrub jay: small bushes, pinion juniper forest and mesquite. But they are adaptable, using oak trees, home gardens and city parks. It’s easy to find them in our suburban environment.

They do not have the best reputation, because they steal eggs from other nests. But don’t be too angry at them. After much research, it was shown that only 1 percent of birds have ever done that. A  few bad seeds, I guess.

They can be aggressive toward other birds of the same size, trying to steal acorns from acorn woodpeckers and screeching loudly at birds coming into their territory. But they feed peacefully with smaller birds.

eve021313blue

Photos: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates | Click to enlarge

They have a good defense system: There is usually a sentinel guarding the area while a flock of scrub jays is feeding. If the guard sees something unusual, the screeching is loud and immediate. The whole flock might join in the screeching to protect themselves from danger.

They have been seen perched on mule deer, picking off their parasites while the mule deer wait patiently until the grooming is completed.

You might be surprised to know they have no blue pigment in their feathers.

The feather has thin layers of cells that do not absorb certain wavelengths of light. So, only the blue wavelength that is not absorbed is reflected, and consequently, that is the coloring that appears to us as the bright blue of the scrub jay.

We have many beautiful oak trees in California, and we can thank the scrub jays that spread the seeds all over. Eleven species of oak trees have become dependent on the scrub jay to disperse the acorns. They are good at that job – one jay can hide 5,000 acorns in a season. What is interesting is that they choose good acorns most of the time; only 10 percent of the cache is not viable to reproduce a tree. They store more food than necessary, so many seeds grow in the process. The jay can hide acorns up to 2.3 miles away from the original source – a record for any bird. They also eat berries and small animals such as frogs, lizards and insects.

Scrub jays will preen mule deer for the insects.

Scrub jays will preen mule deer for the insects.

The scrub jay has a high brain-to-body mass ratio, so it is a highly intelligent bird. You can understand how smart their behavior is when they are hiding their food.

I have observed them often at work. I would throw a handful of peanuts in the yard and see a scrub jay coming full speed, grabbing the peanut and hiding it hastily in the yard – while checking over his shoulder to make sure no other bird sees what he is doing. Step one accomplished. Then he would come back to each site to retrieve the peanut and do more serious digging and hiding.

They can remember 200 caches for long periods of time. It is unusual for a bird of this size to have the ability to plan for the future.

Do they have funerals?

Research has been conducted by the University of California, Davis about this behavior. Western scrub jays gather and call others to screech over the body of a dead jay, and these noisy “funerals” can last up to 30 minutes.

The answer is not clear, but it could be that they are trying to make sure all have heard that a crime has been committed and perhaps intimidate the predator with the cacophony. The jays themselves are the only ones that know for sure.

A male and female form a strong bond and build the nest together. They have one to two broods per year, with two to six babies. The eggs are incubated for 15 to  17 days. Family groups remain together for a year or two after the nestlings have matured.

That explains one thing: The scrub jay is not a gregarious bird and does not stay with other scrub jays. When you see them in a group, it is because they are in a family unit. This is when they have the feedings with a sentinel watching. This makes the “funeral” demonstration even more unusual, and it’s why research has been conducted to find a clear answer.

They are not only smart, but they also have a long life span. In the wild, they will live for about nine years – and remember, two broods a year with two to six 6 babies each time, so that is a lot of scrub jays.

The oldest known Western scrub jay lived happily right here in Castaic, in captivity,  to the ripe age of 19 years, and 8 months. It must be something in the water here in the Santa Clarita Valley. Its name was Aaron.

Scrub jays are easy to attract to your back yard. With some patience and daily repetition, they will learn to eat peanuts from your hand if you have time and perseverance. They are noisy but beautiful birds, easy to observe, and I think they deserve a better reputation. Give them a chance.

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

0 Comments

You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment


Commentary Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Related Content
RECENT COMMENTARY
Thursday, Jul 28, 2016
The weekend before last, my son-in-law and I gathered about 3 quarts of elderberries from the side of the road in Agua Dulce, and I decided to turn them into jelly.
Tuesday, Jul 26, 2016
Looking at all of the different types of aircraft flying over the fire, we watch the ballet they perform, saving lives and property. Did you ever wonder about the things you're seeing?
Sunday, Jul 24, 2016
The Tarahumara are known around the world as amazing, legendary runners. Since 1992, they have been running from Alaska to Panama where they meet up with another group running from the tip of South America up to Panama. I was lucky enough to see them arrive last week when they passed for the first time through the Santa Clarita Valley.
Friday, Jul 22, 2016
A recent opinion piece by Newhall County Water District Director Lynne Plambeck made some serious – but patently untrue – allegations regarding Castaic Lake Water Agency that demand correction and clarification.
Wednesday, Jul 20, 2016
The volunteers from the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates are known to provide school tours for thousands of elementary school kids each year and are responsible for different educational programs for adults each month. But there are more “behind the scenes” parts you might not be aware of, where the docents’ decisions can make a difference.
Tuesday, Jul 19, 2016
Twenty-seven people had the unfortunate situation of being connected directly with the Clintons, and now they're dead - murdered or killed in "accidents." And they weren't the only ones.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The weekend before last, my son-in-law and I gathered about 3 quarts of elderberries from the side of the road in Agua Dulce, and I decided to turn them into jelly.
Elderberry Jelly | Commentary by Mari Carbajal
1938 - Newhall Tunnel cut away, replaced by Sierra Highway [story]
Johnny Rockets, a global operator and franchisor of more than 350 Americana-themed restaurants in 28 countries around the world, is pleased to announce John Maguire has been named President and CEO.
Johnny Rockets Names New President
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, find updates on the Sand Fire. Plus, hear from the couple who's house burned down due to the Sand Fire. Follow the link to see these stories and more.
SCV NewsBreak for Wednesday, July 27. 2016
The illnesses reported to health officials continue to be connected with consumers reporting that they ate or handled uncooked dough or ate uncooked batter made with raw flour. No illnesses have been connected with flour that has been properly baked, cooked or handled.
General Mills Expands Flour Recall
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement Wednesday with Cemex Inc., under which the company will pay a $1.69 million civil penalty and invest approximately $10 million to cut emissions of harmful air pollution at five of its cement manufacturing plants in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.
Settlement: Cemex to Pay Fine, Spend $10 Mil. to Cure U.S. Clean Air Act Violations
Concerts in the Park for this Saturday, July 30, is canceled, and Santa Clarita Central Park is closed until further notice.
Saturday’s Concert in Park Canceled; See What Else
Effective Thursday, July 28, the Angeles National Forest is closed to the public in the designated Sand Fire Area, as shown on the map.
Effective Thursday: U.S. Forest Officially Closed to Public
Two southbound lanes on Dickason Drive between Smyth Drive and Decoro Drive are expected to be closed for repairs on a water main break Wednesday until 9 p.m. Construction crews from Valencia Water Co. are on site fixing the problem.
Water Main Break Shuts Lanes on Dickason
Due to the Sand Fire, mandatory closures are in effect on the open space trails in East Walker Ranch and Golden Valley Ranch.
City: East Walker Ranch, Golden Valley Open Space Closed Indefinitely
Triumph Foundation's 7th Annual Let'em Roll Casino Night will include a Texas Hold'em Poker Tournament, Craps, Blackjack, and Roulette. We will have prime rib dinner, music, dancing, and a silent auction. Join us in helping people triumph over Spinal Cord Injury by attending our fundraiser.
July 30: Let ’em Roll for Triumph Foundation
Santa Clarita-based Stay Green Inc. brought home seven awards from the San Fernando Valley chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association’s 57th annual Landscape Beautification Awards.
Local Landscaping Firm Wins 7 Industry Awards
The Los Angeles County Fire Department, along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Incident Command Team 3 wishes to express our deep gratitude to the Golden Valley High School and the Hart District for their partnership with us as we battle the Sand Fire.
Sand Fire-Fighting Team Says Thanks to Hart District, Golden Valley High
The Santa Clarita Public Library’s Summer Reading 2016 “Read for the Win” program invites readers to celebrate their reading victories by attending the Field Day Finale on Saturday, July 30 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Old Town Newhall Library
July 30: Santa Clarita Library’s Summer Reading Program Finale
Providence Holy Cross Medical Center is the top-rated hospital serving the northern San Fernando Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley, according to the results of a federal government study released Wednesday.
Medicare-Medicaid Rates Holy Cross Best in Region
Ongoing evacuated areas and hard closures remain closed for public safety. Local hazards including power lines, debris, and equipment may create safety concerns.
#SandFire Wed.: 38,346 Acres, 40% Contained
Studio 2 will provide additional classroom space during the week, but also be utilized as gallery space for rental on the weekends.
ARTree Preparing to Open 2nd Studio
The Community Academy offers a limited number of community members the exclusive opportunity to learn about every aspect of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Apply Now for SCV Sheriff’s 2016 Community Academy
The Valley Industry Association will host a Santa Clarita City Council candidates forum Aug. 16.
Aug. 16: Industry Group to Host Council Candidates Forum
KPMG was retained by the City Attorney to complete a forensic audit in May. The City has already implemented new controls to strengthen internal procedures. The audit provided the City with several recommendations which the City will also implement.
Audit Shows How Worker Allegedly Stole $534K from City
The CHP will show you how to properly install your car seat or check on your installation for you.
Aug. 6: Newhall CHP will Help with Your Car Seat
1876 - 223-foot Soledad train tunnel completed; last tunnel on line linking L.A. & S.F. [story]
The Los Angeles County Fire Department and the Chief Executive Office will review the feasibility of purchasing, leasing and partnering with other public entities for the operation of SuperScoopers, rotary, and fixed-wing aircrafts, on a motion by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.
Antonovich: County to Consider Buying or Leasing More SuperScoopers
Flareups from the Sand Fire continued Tuesday, particularly in the Acton-Agua Dulce area where the Shambala Preserve was re-threatened shortly before 6 p.m. Illegal drone flights continued to inhibit firefighting activity in certain locations.
Sand Fire Tuesday: 37,701 Acres, 25% Contained, Drones Interfering
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, government officials urge governor to issue state of emergency for Sand Fire. Plus, families turn to GoFundMe for help after losing homes.
SCV NewsBreak for Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Loren Janes, a renowned movie stuntman who co-founded the Stuntmen's Association during a career that spanned five decades, lost his home and his movie memorabilia in the Sand Fire.
Stuntman Loren Janes Loses Home to #SandFire; Aid Wanted
The College of the Canyons Astronomy and Physics Club has been hard at work all summer as the club prepares and tests a prototype platform designed to collect cosmic dust particles in the upper stratosphere aboard NASA’s High Altitude Student Platform, a scientific weather balloon.
COC Students Prep for NASA Weather Balloon Launch
The league office has officially announced the 2016 UWS All-West Team. The Santa Clarita Blue Heat (4-1-3) and Real Salt Lake Women (4-2-2) lead the way, with both teams highlighting the All-West First Team and individual honors.
Locals Grab Top Honors in Women’s Soccer
Mission Valley Bancorp announced Tuesday the company’s year to date net income of $1,603,000 for the period ended June 30, 2016 – the strongest 2nd quarter close in the history of the company.
Mission Valley Bank Posts 29% Jump in 2Q Profits
Certain evacuations and road closures from the Sand Fire remain in effect Tuesday afternoon.
#SandFire Evacuations, Road Closures Still in Effect Tues. Afternoon
Coroner’s officials identified a man who died Friday night during the Sand Fire.
Officials ID Sand Canyon Man Who Died in Fire
"The force of the Sand fire has been demonic. May we never have to witness this display of horror ever again."
Hedren on Shambala’s Experience in #SandFire
Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, along with Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, submitted a letter Tuesday to Gov. Jerry Brown urging a State Declaration of Disaster in response to the recent Sand Fire in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Knight, Wilk, Lackey Request Disaster Declaration
A bill sponsored by the Board of Equalization to streamline and simplify refunds on tax liabilities is now signed by the governor and will become law Jan. 1, 2017.
New Law Eases Rules for Installment Taxpayers
Los Angeles County residents and businesses, including persons with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, may call 211 LA County for emergency preparedness information, and other referral services.
County Proclaims State of Emergency; Dial 2-1-1