[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
71°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
February 8
1990 - Rock 'n' Roller Del Shannon, whose hit "Runaway" topped the charts in April 1961, found dead at home in Sand Canyon [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: 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
Monday, Feb 8, 2016
I’m confident the city of Santa Clarita can manage to build a parking structure and get us a movie theater in downtown Newhall. I’m sure if the City Council of Santa Clarita had authority over the high-speed rail, it would get done properly and within budget.
Sunday, Feb 7, 2016
As the sunrise awakened the upper Central Valley, a low fog hugged the ground waiting to be dispersed by the warming rays. Glorious morning. Near cloudless sky. Hot cup of coffee in hand. Fantastic.
Sunday, Feb 7, 2016
To own a quality YiXing teapot is to own a piece of history, a work of art and a valuable tea brewing vessel. What makes them truly special is the zisha clay, found only in the Jiangsu province of China, and the highly skilled craftspeople commissioned to create the pots.
Friday, Feb 5, 2016
The proposed Laemmle Theatre project will serve as the nexus for the next wave of redevelopment in Old Town Newhall. It is estimated to draw between 150,000 and 200,000 people per year to the district, which will bring additional consumer activity and be a catalyst for new development in the area - resulting in a substantial increase in sales and property tax revenue for the city.
Friday, Feb 5, 2016
On the flat and vast areas of the Central Valley floor, it would appear that not much is in the way of the proposed train route - only the lives and property of some folks who may have worked years or even generations to have a home, business, farm or ranch make a small profit so that maybe, just maybe, their children will have it a little bit better than they had it.
Tuesday, Feb 2, 2016
Making sure we are providing excellent customer service is job one at the city of Santa Clarita. It is our goal to assure a high quality of life, and we achieve this by responding quickly and efficiently to the issues most important to our residents.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
I’m confident the city of Santa Clarita can manage to build a parking structure and get us a movie theater in downtown Newhall. I’m sure if the City Council of Santa Clarita had authority over the high-speed rail, it would get done properly and within budget.
Yuba City Buttes | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
1990 - Rock 'n' Roller Del Shannon, whose hit "Runaway" topped the charts in April 1961, found dead at home in Sand Canyon [story]
As the sunrise awakened the upper Central Valley, a low fog hugged the ground waiting to be dispersed by the warming rays. Glorious morning. Near cloudless sky. Hot cup of coffee in hand. Fantastic.
Naked Truths
To own a quality YiXing teapot is to own a piece of history, a work of art and a valuable tea brewing vessel. What makes them truly special is the zisha clay, found only in the Jiangsu province of China, and the highly skilled craftspeople commissioned to create the pots.
Don’t Soap Your Zisha
1919 - First publication of weekly Newhall Signal newspaper, $2 a year [story]
The latest craze sweeping America is Pop Up Stores. The Closet on Main is thrilled to be holding its first Pop Up Store inside of Westfield Town Center from Feb. 11-14.
Pop Over to Closet’s Bridal, Formal Pop Up Store
A Princess cruise for two to any of Princess' cruise destinations (up to $2,500 value), tickets to a taping of the CBS hit comedy, The Big Bang Theory, and a day in Sacramento with State Assemblyman Scott Wilk are featured on the list of items that will be on the auction block at the SCV Senior Center's Celebrity Waiter Dinner, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Hyatt Regency Valencia.
Only 6 Tables Left for Celebrity Waiter; Auction List Grows
LINN Energy LLC and its affiliate LinnCo, parent owners of the Placerita Canyon oil field, announced late last week they’ve “initiated a process to explore strategic alternatives” and have zeroed out their $3.6 billion credit facility, withdrawing the last $919 million for “general corporate purposes.”
Oil Price Decline Could Spell BK for Placerita Field Owner
Valencia-based aircraft parts distributor Wesco Aircraft Holdings Inc. released first-quarter earnings Thursday that matched Wall Street expectations of 25 cents per share.
Wesco Aircraft Earnings Meet Expectations
Longtime CalArts Dance School faculty member Colin Connor has been selected as the next artistic director of the prestigious New York modern dance company, José Limón Dance Foundation.
CalArts Faculty Member to Lead New York Dance Company
1953 - Newly public Newhall County Water District holds first board meeting [story]
The proposed Laemmle Theatre project will serve as the nexus for the next wave of redevelopment in Old Town Newhall. It is estimated to draw between 150,000 and 200,000 people per year to the district, which will bring additional consumer activity and be a catalyst for new development in the area - resulting in a substantial increase in sales and property tax revenue for the city.
A Catalyst for Newhall
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, three SCV schools were on lockdown. Plus, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors will look to approve a donation that would make transportation a little easier for two local groups.
SCV NewsBreak for Friday, February 5, 2016
As the community marks the 88th anniversary of the St. Francis Dam disaster, the Santa Clarita Historical Society will host an informative lecture and a guided tour of the dam site on Saturday, March 12.
March 12: Talk, Tour Bring 1928 Dam Disaster to Life
The Friends of the Santa Clarita Public Library is inviting community members to attend the 3rd Annual Antique Appraisal Day happening Saturday, Feb. 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Old Town Newhall Library.
Feb. 6: City Libraries Host Antique Appraisal
A local group wants the county to make Bouquet Canyon Road safer.
Cyclists Seek a Safer Bouquet Canyon Road
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is slated Tuesday to approve a set of new strategies that could get up to 3,500 homeless people off the street by July 2017.
Supes Could Allocate $100 Mil. to Curb Homelessness
Close friends and family have reported that Frank Kleeman, the 2002 SCV Man of the Year, died early Friday.
Frank Kleeman, 2002 SCV Man of the Year, Dies at 82
San Francisquito Canyon Road will be shut down for approximately four hours after a motorcycle crash left one person dead.
Fatal Crash Shuts Down San Francisquito Canyon Road
The ARTree will continue its speaker series with Ruth Balbach, creative director at DreamWorks Animation.
Feb. 25: DreamWorks Creative Director Coming to ARTree
The City of Santa Clarita has teamed up with The Energy Network to bring you great statewide rebates and incentives for upgrading your home to be more energy efficient.
City, Energy Network Introduce Energy Efficient Home Upgrades
The County Health Officer is issuing a Cold Weather Alert due to the National Weather Service’s forecast for low temperatures.
Cold Weather Alert for SCV, AV
A man convicted of gunning down four people, including a Castaic man, outside a Northridge boarding house more than two years ago has been sentenced to death. Pictured is victim, Teofilo “JoJo” Navales, of Ridge Top Lane in Castaic. Navales left behind a wife and three daughters.
Killer of 4 in Northridge Gets Death; Castaic Man a Victim
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will be looking to approve a donation from The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Foundation that could help two local programs during their meeting Tuesday.
Sheriff’s Foundation Aims to Donate Van for Local Programs
Three schools were put on lockdown for a short time in Newhall early Friday after two men who reportedly had a gun was spotted near the schools.
Report of Armed Men Prompts 3-Campus Lockdown
The text of Rep. Steve Knight's proposed legislation calling on various federal agencies to define and impose safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities was published Friday.
Text of Knight’s ‘Natural Gas Leak Prevention’ Bill Published
Canyon Country East: Zone 8 - Public Safety and Crime Prevention Information for the Week of 01/25/16 - 01/31/16
Crime Blotter: Burglary, Grand Theft Auto in Canyon Country East
Newhall: Zone 6, Public Safety and Crime Prevention Information for the week of 01/25/16 - 01/31/16.
Crime Blotter: Burglary, Theft in Newhall
Public Safety and Crime Information Report for Saugus The following crime was reported last week (01/25/16-01/13/16): A grand theft auto was reported near the 28700 block of Bouquet Canyon Road. In this incident a suspect stole the victim's 2012 Ford F150 pickup truck. The vehicle was later located in Fresno, CA.
Blotter: Theft in Saugus
The following crimes were reported in the Castaic/Val Verde area last week (01/25/16 -01/31/16): A commercial burglary was reported from the 31000 block of Castaic Road. The business reported a front window to the location was shattered and their office appeared to have been rummaged through. It was unknown at the time of the report what was stolen.
Blotter: Burglary in Castaic