An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the Black-Throated Magpie-Jay
Jul 06, 2017 12:15AM
● By Paul Spear
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Black-throated Magpie-jay (Calocitta colliei), a strikingly long-tailed magpie jay of northwestern Mexico. This species is 58.5 to 76.5 cm (23 to 30 inches) long, more than half of which is the tail, and their weight is 225-251 grams (8-9 oz.). Their upperparts are blue with white tips to the tail feathers; the underparts are white. Their bill, legs, head, and conspicuous crest are black except for a pale blue crescent over the eyes and a patch under the eye. In juveniles, the crest has a white tip and the patch below the eye is smaller and darker blue than in adults. In most of these birds, the throat and chest are also black, but some in the southern part of the range have various amounts of white there. This species occurs in pairs or small groups in woodland, except for humid woodland, and partially open areas on the Pacific Slope of Mexico from southern Sonora south to Jalisco and northwestern Colima, for a total of 160,000 km2. As of 1993 there was some evidence of a population decline. The species has become established in southern San Diego County (2013), especially in the Tijuana River Valley.
These birds are omnivorous, typical of the crow family. Their nests are also typical of the family: a big cup of sticks lined with softer material. The female lays 3 to 7 whitish eggs with brown and gray spots.
Rather less well studied than its sister-species, the White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa), the Collie’s Magpie-Jay, or Black-throated Magpie-Jay, as it is better known, is confined to northwest Mexico. At the southernmost terminus of its range, in Jalisco and Colima, hybrids between the two magpie-jays are locally quite common, which has led to the suggestion that it would be better to recognize just a single species. Additionally, the genus Calocitta, of which the magpie-jays are the sole representatives, is sometimes subsumed within Cyanocorax. The Black-throated Magpie-Jay clearly differs from the White-throated in its all-black face and throat, with blue patches above and below the eyes, and more expansive crest. Hybrids between them possess intermediate plumages. The present species prefers scrubby vegetation, thorn forest, and riparian areas, from the lowlands to at least 1800 m, and although usually considered to be resident, birds have occasionally wandered as far north as southern Arizona.
I spotted several Black-throated Magpie-jays in the butterfly garden within the confines of the Tijuana Estuary. They were very difficult to photograph since they are very finicky, flying and hopping around the tree tops. Look for these beautiful and elusive birds there. Until next week, happy birding!
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