NATURE NARRATIVES: The surprising scrub jay

By Melissa Walker
       You can learn a lot about birds just by watching them for a few minutes, and you might be surprised by what you see. One sunny winter morning when I was observing chickadees and juncos at Bear Creek Nature Center's feeders, I also noticed three tiny mice eating seeds that had fallen to the ground. Then suddenly, a scrub jay swooped down and ate one of the mice! I was astounded! I had only seen the jays eat seeds and insects, and had no idea that they would eat a mouse.

A scrub jay with an acorn.
Courtesy of Wikipedia

       During fall, I have also watched scrub jays cache, or hide, seeds. When acorns develop on the scrub oak trees, the scrub jays go to work preparing for winter. A jay gathers an acorn, then flies to a particular location to cache it. Using its sturdy beak, the jay pushes the acorn into the ground, effectively storing it for future use, and inadvertently planting a tree.
       Like ravens and magpies, jays are members of the crow family and have similar traits. All have raucous calls, tend to live in small family flocks and are considered among the most intelligent of birds.
       Scrub jays are easy to identify by their colors-blue head, tail and wings; light throat and breast; and gray back. Unlike crested Steller's jays and blue jays, scrub jays have sleek heads.
       The well-named scrub jays are most often found in scrub oak thickets in the foothills and are year-round avian residents of Colorado. It is only during the breeding season that the word "secretive" would describe this bird. For the rest of the year, the jay's noisy call and flash of blue feathers herald its location.

Walker, a long-time area naturalist, posts regular entries in her online blog at naturenarratives.com. She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer.