National Geographic : 1933 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE NORTHERN BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata cristata) The blue jay is one of the best-known birds in central and eastern North America. Recently I examined an index covering for fifteen years a publication devoted largely to notes and brief articles by contributors writing of birds which had interested them. Of all the 1,420 kinds of birds that are listed as occurring in North Amer ica, the blue jay stood fourth among those most frequently mentioned in this magazine. One of the most outstanding characteristics of this dashing, handsome bird is its propensity to make a noise. He shrieks singly and in chorus. He shouts at hawks, owls, cats, and snakes, or screams only for the pleasure of hearing himself make a hair-raising din. His shoutings fill the woodlands of southern Canada and of the eastern United States. There is no escape from his cries for any great length of time. Only in the nesting season, when domestic duties and the safety of his eggs and young demand a certain amount of vocal restraint, can he be considered a quiet bird. It is an abundant species, but has its natural enemies. Scattered clusters of blue feathers here and there in the woods testify to the success of some hawk or owl in the capture of one of his tormentors. Sometimes these feathers appear later among the nesting material used by birds whose eggs and young the blue jay has been known to eat. Blue jays are devoted to their nests and young and show unusual boldness in defending them. Sometimes one will sit on the nest until actually touched by the hand of the intruder. With its mate it will make a great outcry and will often come within a few feet of the person who has violated the sanctity of its nesting place. After the young have left the nest and acquired strength in flight, the family groups forage about the country with great excitement and vocifera tion. Two or three families will often unite and in scattering flocks go trooping along from one grove to another, crossing, a few at a time, the open, intervening areas. As autumn approaches, they may move for many miles in quest of more ample supplies of beechnuts or acorns. Some of them stay throughout the winter in the North, but many travel long distances and pass the colder months in the more southern States. FLORIDA BLUE JAY (C. c. florincola). This jay is a little smaller, the white tips of the feathers are more narrow, and the hack is slightly grayer than that of the northern blue jay. It is found in the South Atlantic and Gulf States from the coast of North Carolina to northern Florida and westward to Louisiana. SEMPLE'S BLUE JAY (C. c. semplei). This bird was described to science in 1928 from specimens taken at Coconut Grove, Florida. Its range is central and southern Florida. STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri) Principally in the mountains, but also at times at lower elevations over the vast sweep of coun try from Alaska to Central America, the bril liant, long-crested, blue-bodied jay is found. Scientists know it in different places by separate names, but to the casual observer little, if any, difference in habits, form, or color can be de tected wherever seen. Maj. Allan Brooks here beautifully figures the Steller's jay, one of the six of this group to be mentioned. It inhabits the Pacific coast country, from the Alaska Peninsula southward to the State of Washington, including Vancouver and most of the other coastal islands. It is usually resident throughout the year, wherever it is found. Often the nests are built in firs, saplings being preferred to the larger, taller trees. Nests 6o feet from the ground have been found, but this is unusual. Often they are not more than 5 or Io feet from the earth. In their construction, twigs are used for the foundation and the outer supports. Into the basket thus constructed, 8 or o1inches across, is sunk a deep cup, lined generally with grass or moss. Then the hollow is well plastered with mud, and this in turn is lined with rootlets or pine needles. Now and then the hair of deer or cattle is used to make a soft bed for the three to five spotted eggs which are to come. The eggs are about one and a quarter inches long and the greenish-blue ground pattern is sprinkled with dots and spots of brown and lavender. Incuba tion requires 16 days. Steller's jay is common in many localities and is well known to the inhabitants of the country. Singly or in small groups, it comes to the back yard searching for something to eat. Such visits may be looked for especially in winter, when snow covers its food provided for by the forest. It eats insects, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and young birds. At times it robs the California wood pecker and its kin of their store of acorns. In addition to Steller's jay, other varieties of this group of jays, very similar to it, but possess ing sufficiently small differences to justify orni thologists in accrediting them with subspecific status, are the following, found in North Amer ica north of Mexico: QUEEN CHARLOTTE JAY (C. s. car lottae). This bird inhabits the Queen Charlotte Islands. British Columbia. COAST JAY (C. s. carbonacea). Its range is along the Pacific coast of Oregon to the Santa Lucia Mountains of California and certain small areas to the eastward. BLUE-FRONTED JAY (C. s. frontalis). It inhabits the high and the medium elevations of the Sierra Nevada, from Mount Shasta south ward to San Diego County, California; also, it is found on various inner coastal ranges of that State. BLACK-HEADED JAY (C. s. annec tens). Its home is in boreal and transition areas of the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia south to eastern Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. It has been known to wander to Utah and Ne braska. LONG-CRESTED JAY (C. s. diade mata). Here, also, is a jay of the moderate and of the high altitudes. It is found in the Rocky Mountains from Utah and Wyoming southward into the States of Sonora, Zacatecas, Jalisco, and Nayarit, Mexico.