I bet you didn’t know there were seven species of jays in Texas did you? Most people are familiar with the Blue Jay. Its raucous calls can be heard from far away and it is a frequent visitor to feeders and bird baths in the eastern United States. As far as the birds are concerned, Brazoria County is in the eastern U.S. and Blue Jays are common here. But if you travel south to Corpus Christi, you will encounter a different jay. This one is mostly green and yellow with just a little bit of blue and black on the face. It is aptly named the Green Jay. In the U.S. Green Jays are found only in south Texas but the species ranges into Mexico and Central America and there is another population in the highlands of South America. Green Jays really get around! So that’s two species of jay, what are the others?
As long as we are talking about South Texas, we should mention the Brown Jay. This bird is a rare visitor to the U.S. along the border in Starr and Zapata Counties. There used to be a small breeding population there but that has disappeared and now a Brown Jay sighting in the U.S. is a rare event. This jay is mostly brown with a lighter belly. They range from northern Mexico down into Central America. Like all jays, they are noisy and are frequent visitors to bird feeders. The only Brown Jay I have seen in the U.S. was frequenting a feeder where the homeowners were putting out tortillas for it. Go figure!
If we continue our journey and go a little west of Austin this time, we will find Western Scrub-Jays. True to its name this species of jay prefers low scrub. They species has a blue head, wings, and tail with a grayish back and underparts. They range from southern Washington State to central Texas and into central Mexico. They look very similar to another of our jays, the Mexican Jay. In Texas, this species is only found in Big Bend National Park though its range includes eastern Arizona, western New Mexico and the mountains of northern Mexico. This jay has a blue head, back, wings, and tail and is gray underneath. They frequent the hiking trails in the park and are happy to take a hand out of some crackers or other treat you might be willing to share.
So that’s five species of jays and I said there were seven. We have to go even farther west to find the other two species. Stellar’s Jay is the western counterpart to our Blue Jay and they range though out much of the western U.S. In Texas they are found in the Davis and Guadalupe Mountains. This is a nice looking bird with a large crest, much larger than the Blue Jay’s. Ours are mostly blue though the more northerly birds can have a black head. And that brings us to the Pinyon Jay. This species ranges from central Oregon to northern Baja California and east to Oklahoma but they wander widely during the non-breeding season. They show up in Texas in large flocks during irruption years when they roam in search of food.
By Susan Heath