Larry CollinsWILD ABOUT BIRDSFree Press Birding Columnist

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February 14, 2013
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BIRD-WATCHING: The 4 Jays common to this area

There are four species of Jays that you might notice in these parts. They are the Gray Jay, Steller's Jay, Western Scrub Jay, and the Pinyon Jay. There was, as well, a single Blue Jay seen in the Cedaredge area during one of the recent Audubon bird counts. The Gray Jay tends to remain at higher elevations, whereas the other three Jays move to the valley floor during winter months in search of food.Jays will cache seeds and nuts to retrieve later, and make repeated trips to feeders to gather food and hide it in a safe spot. A favorite food is peanuts in the shell, and they will retrieve far fewer peanuts than they actually hide. Western Scrub Jays have been known to cache up to 6,000 pine seeds or 5,000 nuts of different types in a single autumn. The Pinyon Jay's favorite food of "pine nuts" is the same seed that people often enjoy as the snack food purchased under the same name. Like most Jays, Pinyon Jays store hidden caches of food, but unlike other Jays, both members of a mated pair work together to hide the food items and thus, both of them know the location of their hidden supply of food. Due to the Jays' habit of burying acorns over a wide area, 11 species of oak trees have become dependent on them for the dispersal of their acorns. The Steller's Jay's habit of burying pine nuts has resulted in several species of pine trees becoming partially dependent on them for the dispersal of their seeds. Scrub Jays bury many more acorns than they consume, thus helping to renew many species of oak trees. The Gray Jay stores food items by using its sticky saliva to glue them to branches high up in trees. This food is always available, even during the deepest snow periods.Unlike other jays, the Pinyon Jay has no feathers at the base of its bill. This allows it to search deep into pine cones for seeds without soiling its feathers with sticky pine sap. In years when pine cone crops fail, Pinyon Jays will engage in an irruptive migration, leaving their permanent home territories and moving great distances in search of food. Pinyon Jays live in permanent social groups which may contain over 500 individuals.Blue Jays will bury seeds up to 2.5 miles from their original source, which is a record for any bird. Mated pairs of Gray Jays live most of their lives in a territory of less than 200 acres in size and rarely leave it. The Gray Jay is one of the few species, other than raptors, known to carry food items with their feet while in flight. The Western Scrub Jay and mule deer have a very cooperative relationship. The deer allow the jays to land on their bodies and jump from place in search of parasites on which to feed.If you have a flock of Scrub Jays foraging in your yard, look for the presence of sentinels. If guards spot something, the whole group may join in a mobbing behavior to protect themselves.Blue Jays are often chastised for their known practice of eating eggs and nestlings of other birds. But extensive research has proven this to be a very rare occurrence, with only 1% of the study population showing any evidence of this behavior.The name jay has its possible origins from the Latin "gaius" meaning "gay or merry." The species name cristata originates from the Latin word crista, meaning "crested." Just like bluebirds, Blue Jays have no blue pigments in their feathers. Instead, each feather barb has a thin layer of cells that absorb all wavelengths of color except blue. Only the blue wavelength is reflected and scattered, resulting in their blue appearance to our eyes.Blue Jays are known to migrate, but the phenomenon is not well understood by scientists. Research has shown that some individuals will migrate south during some years and choose to stay in the north during others. Why they do this is still one of nature's mysteries. It is estimated that only about 20% of the population of Blue Jays migrate, even in the northern parts of its range.---------------------Local bird expert Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard birdfeeding experience possible. Email your birdfeeding and birding questions to lcollins1@bresnan.net and he'll answer them in his bi-weekly Q&A column in the Free Press.


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 14, 2013 01:32PM Published Feb 14, 2013 01:31PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.