[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
Partly sunny
Partly sunny
80°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
October 25
1948 - Valencia developer Thomas E. Dierckman, 2012 SCV Man of Year, born in Indiana [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.

Comments are closed.

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: INFO (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
Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
If you can’t show us the “better deal,” you don’t have a better deal. A better deal has to be accepted by Metro, the city of Santa Clarita and Allvision or another sign company. Either show it to us or admit there isn't one.
Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
My boys are happy in their own skin, but they also love to get caught up in their imaginations, to get caught up in play, to put on that costume and become someone else - often someone they feel is more powerful than they are - strong, commanding, magical.
Friday, Oct 24, 2014
Captain's Message: Slow down and watch for children on Halloween.
Friday, Oct 24, 2014
The billboard agreement is the known bird-in-the-hand versus the unknown two-in-the-bush later. Of importance is that Clear Channel was invited to come in with proposals, and they have never responded. Without question, there are no guarantees of a better deal later if this one is lost.
Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
So far there has been about $181,700 of “grass roots” support to preserve the current billboards – of which maybe $6,500 is local (the $500 from Tony Strickland being from “out of town”). All kinds of money to stop the three electronic billboards and preserve dozens and dozens of ugly relics of a bygone era that have serious light pollution issues, too.
Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
Ezra visits different schools each year to share with other children what he has gone through and how being different is not a problem. His inspirational talks demonstrate how anyone can achieve his or her dreams, no matter what the circumstances might be.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1948 - Valencia developer Thomas E. Dierckman, 2012 SCV Man of Year, born in Indiana [story]
If you can’t show us the “better deal,” you don’t have a better deal. A better deal has to be accepted by Metro, the city of Santa Clarita and Allvision or another sign company. Either show it to us or admit there isn't one.
Show Us the Deal
My boys are happy in their own skin, but they also love to get caught up in their imaginations, to get caught up in play, to put on that costume and become someone else - often someone they feel is more powerful than they are - strong, commanding, magical.
Magical Masks | Commentary by Jennifer Fischer
Get your local news highlights every weeknight on SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Friday, October 24, 2014
Captain's Message: Slow down and watch for children on Halloween.
Message From SCV Sheriff’s Capt. Roosevelt  Johnson
Sally Van Swearingen, author of “It’s Not Over Yet!: Reclaiming Your Real Beauty Power in Your 40s, 50s and Beyond,” will appear at Local Author Night
Local Authors Night Tonight at Barnes & Noble
CalArts students held a campuswide protest Thursday, walking out of classes over claims the Valencia arts college mishandled a sexual assault report.
CalArts Student Alleges Mishandling of Sexual Assault Report
Brett Croft's header with 5:40 remaining to play lifted The Master's past Johnson & Wales of Colorado 2-1 in a non-conference match on Reese Field.
Croft’s Using His Head
It’s Week 3 of the Foothill League high school football season. Canyon takes on Saugus in a crucial game for playoff position.
SCV Sports Roundup for Oct. 24
About 35 marching bands and colorguard units, including all of the Hart School District high school teams, will join Hart for one of the most anticipated Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association (SCSBOA) tournaments of the season on November 1, 2014 at College of the Canyons Cougar Stadium.
Nov 1: Marching Bands Compete in Rampage
Measure EE is on the November ballot and intended to maintain excellent elementary schools in Saugus Union School District by providing safe, modern classrooms for local students, according to the measure’s website. The measure needs an approval rate of 55 percent to pass.
Voters to Decide on Saugus District Bond Measure
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies are also investigating the fight, the video and the circumstances surrounding it, and the fallout from the incident already resulted in one Hart district juvenile getting arrested, officials said.
Hart District Student Arrested for Threats; Teen Brawl Investigation Continues
This was the 10th year for the Santa Clarita “Top 51 Most Influential” list. The public submitted 120 names for consideration.
SCV’s Most Influential People Honored
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies have released the crime reports for the week of Oct. 13-19.
Sheriff’s Station Releases Crime Reports, Oct. 13-19
Deputies received a reports of a suspicious open window of the 25200 block of Avenida Rotella in Valencia, and began a containment of the area, according to Sheriff’s Station reports, after receiving a report of a white van in the area.
Burglary Suspect Arrested in Saugus
The billboard agreement is the known bird-in-the-hand versus the unknown two-in-the-bush later. Of importance is that Clear Channel was invited to come in with proposals, and they have never responded. Without question, there are no guarantees of a better deal later if this one is lost.
Measure ‘S’ Pros, Cons | Betty Arenson
1954 - U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman born in Monterey Park; represents southeastern sliver of SCV [story]
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak: A man suspected of robbing a Newhall Walgreens with a shotgun Thursday is in custody.
SCV NewsBreak for Thursday, October 23, 2014
The following letter was sent to parents of Valencia High School students Thursday afternoon in regards to a fight involving several Hart District students on Friday, October 17, 2014. Dear VHS parents, We are aware of many rumors currently circulating following the fight that happened on Friday evening.
A Letter to Valencia High Parents
COC sophomore setter Taylor Kasha has been named the Western State Conference (WSC) Female Athlete of the Week.
COC’s Kasha Named Western Conference Athlete of the Week
The College of the Canyons women’s soccer team shut out Citrus College, 6-0
SCV Sports Roundup for Oct. 23
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies arrested a man suspected robbing Walgreens with a shotgun for drugs.
Suspect Arrested After Walgreens Drug Robbery
A Santa Clarita mom is making and selling eco-friendly American Girl doll clothing.
SCV Mom Creates American Girl Clothing Business
I remain concerned for the safety and security of our uniformed personnel supporting this mission. Congress will continue to provide robust oversight throughout our troops’ deployment.
McKeon Releases Statement on Ebola