SCRUB JAYS
Michael Ellis

I was driving through the tiny town of Sutter, California and there just outside the High School announcing the upcoming Football schedule was a large rendition of the school mascot -the Blue Jay. AHGGGGGG. There are jays in California and there are jays that have blue feathers however there are NO Blue Jays in this state. You must travel far to the east and cross the great geographic barrier of the Rocky Mountains before you come to the habitat of the Cyanocitta cristata, literally the blue chatterer with a crest. Good name for this ubiquitous bird of the Eastern United States.

But there it was 6 feet high apparently drawn by the artist straight out of the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America. Go Blue Jays!!!! Jays belong to the Corvid Family of birds and we have quite a few members of this group in California- crows, ravens, Clark’s nutcrackers, black-billed and yellow-billed magpies, pinyon jays, gray jays, Steller Jays and scrub jays. These last two are ones commonly called blue jays by the ornithologically challenged.

Steller Jays are named not for the stars but for George Wilhelm Steller a German biologist who accompanied the Danish sea Captain Vitus Bering who was sailing for the Russian Czar, Peter the Great exploring far northern North America in 1741. These birds like the forest and seem to hang out where there are large conifers. They have a prominent crest and a dark, cobalt blue body. The female does a fantastic job of imitating the scream of a red-tailed hawk.

Scrub jays, as the name suggests frequent open land- the chaparral, scrub oaks and forest edges. They do not have a crest; they are blue on the back and grayish white below. Both birds like their eastern counterpart have adapted well to suburbia. So in conclusion if it is a jay with a crest, it is a steller jay, without one is a scrub jay but neither one is a blue jay.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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November 7, 2010