An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the California Scrub-Jay
Mar 22, 2018 11:49AM
By Paul Spear
An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the California Scrub-JayThis weekly column provides photos of birds photographed locally in the Tijuana Estuary or on IB's beaches along with background on the bird.
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica), a medium sized bird species of scrub jay native to western North America. This is the “blue jay” of parks, neighborhoods, and riverside woods near the Pacific Coast. Pairs of California Scrub-Jays are often seen swooping across clearings, giving harsh calls, with their long tails flopping in flight. They readily come to backyard bird feeders. Until recently, this jay was considered part of the same species as the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay; the two were officially “split” in July 2016. They maintain a healthy population overall, increasing in recent years in the northern part of their range.
Their habitat is in oak woodlands, oak scrubs, riverside woods, and foothill forests of pinyon
pines. They are often very common in well-wooded suburbs and parks.
California Scrub-Jays forage on the ground and in trees, singly or in family units during breeding season, and sometimes in flocks at other seasons. They often harvest acorns and bury them, perhaps to retrieve them later. California Scrub-Jays are omnivorous. Their diet varies with the season. They eat a wide variety of insects, especially in summer, as well as a few spiders and snails. Moth caterpillars make up a major percentage of the items fed to their young. Winter diet may be mostly acorns and other seeds, nuts, and berries. They also eat some rodents, and the eggs and young of other birds, small reptiles and amphibians.
After mating, females lay 3-5, sometimes 2-7, usually light green, spotted with olive or brown eggs. Sometimes eggs are paler gray or green with large reddish-brown spots. Incubation is by females in about 17-18 days. Males sometimes feed females during incubation.
Unlike the Florida Scrub-Jays and Mexican Jays, this species breeds in isolated pairs, not cooperative flocks. Pairs typically stay together all year on their permanent territory. Nest sites are in a shrub or tree, usually fairly low, 5-15’ above the ground, but are sometimes higher. Nests, built by both sexes, are a well-built, thick-walled cup of twigs and grass, lined with rootlets and sometimes with animal hair.
The chicks start off fully gray. The older they get, the more they turn blue. On their heads, chicks tend to have a red crest that resembles a comb (Mostly seen on chickens). The chick will lose its crest at day seven, just like the way the baby chickens lose their egg tooth at 5–7 days.
Young are fed by both parents, and leave their nests in about 18-22 days after hatching, but are tended to and fed by the adults for at least another month. California Scrub-Jays generally yield one brood per year, occasionally two.
I spotted this bird busily gathering nesting material in the Tijuana Estuary. Look for this colorful bird and the many other species there while walking or biking on the many trails there. Until next week, happy birding!
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Paul Spear, Publisher, and Editor of Dig Imperial Beach