For the Birds: Another Southern species moving to Washington?

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Scrub jay in Innis Arden
Photo by Tanis Coralee Leonhardi

By Christine Southwick

In the mid 1970’s Anna’s Hummingbirds started staying through our mild winters and breeding here in Washington. 

They are now year-round residents, thanks mainly to flowering plants and year-round hummingbird feeders.

Now some California Scrub-Jays are being seen where they haven’t been seen before. 

Are they going to move here too? It is postulated that these jays are able to move north due to global warming (which includes fleeing forest fires) plus the availability of actively-stocked bird feeders. 

California Scrub-Jay in Briercrest
Photo by Peggy Bartleson

There are three sub-species of Western Scrub-Jays. Plumage and behavior differ greatly between interior and coastal populations of these scrub-jays. 

Coastal populations are called the California Scrub-Jay sub-species and are relatively tame, distinctly different from the interior sub-species. 

Unlike our native Steller’s Jay, California Scrub-Jays have no crest, a white breast with a blue breast band, and the overall blue is much lighter than the deep blue-black of Steller’s Jays.

Western Scrub-Jays prefer oak woodlands but being part of the adaptable corvid family they have found our tree-friendly residential areas to be viable options.

Scrub-Jay getting lay of land
Photo by Tanis Coralee Leonhardi

Western Scrub-Jays are omnivorous and creative eaters. 

They will eat insects, spiders, berries and seeds, acorns and nuts, plus rodents, reptiles, frogs, and even baby birds. 

Like Steller’s Jays they will cache their food and retrieve it later. 

They gladly use bird feeders, especially those with whole peanuts.

Usually monogamous, California Scrub-Jays nest in shrubs and low trees. 

Both partners build the nest for the one brood of 3-6 eggs. Additionally, scrub-jays prefer to travel in pairs or small groups, although it is not unusual for a single bird to adventure out looking for suitable habitat. Recently there were sightings of California Scrub-Jays in Briercrest and Innis Arden.

California Scrub-Jay in Briercrest
Photo by Peggy Bartleson

Western Scrub-Jays don’t migrate, but in the fall some birds will search for new territory, which has enabled the species to spread northward in Washington. 

For years they were south of Puget Sound, but recently West Seattle has had some breeding pairs. 

A few Scrub-Jays have been reported as far north as Skagit County.

It is expected that they will continue their northward progress.

The question is will the Steller’s Jay tolerate them or chase them off? 

I wonder at the outcome. What we do know is that neither side will acquiesce quietly.


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