National Geographic : 1933 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE GREEN JAY (Xanthoura luxuosa glauces cens) In a region of bushy thickets in south Texas a bird suddenly appeared with a twig held in its beak and gazed intently at me. Its size, form and every movement revealed the characteristics of a jay and its colors showed that it was the little known green jay of the lower Rio Grande Valley. When it flew, I followed, for not many bird students had seen the nest of this species and I was interested in learning what disposition the bird would make of that twig. It led me for more than half a mile, alighting frequently and appearing to make no special effort to keep out of sight, although I am sure it was aware of my movements. At length it flew into a bushy tree, still carrying the twig. When I came close it departed, but without the twig. In the tree I discovered a nest. Cutting thorns and limbs, and pushing upward among innumer able small branches, I reached it and found it to be an old one with no signs of any repairs being in progress. I have often wondered if that jay did not deliberately deceive and outwit me. Very little has been written about its food or general habits, but it is known to occur within the limits of the United States only in the valley of the Rio Grande below Laredo, Texas. In Mexico it is a common bird in the States of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. Closely allied forms are found farther south, two of these within the limits of Mexico. The natives call it pajaro verde-green bird. Mr. Ludlow Griscom, who has had personal experiences with green jays, has written me as follows: "The green jay prefers a relatively dry climate and is most abundant in thick patches of scrub or in dry open gallery forest where there is consid erable bushy undergrowth. It is rare or absent in Mexico in the humid rain forests near the coast. In southern Texas it is particularly fond of the dense patches of evergreen scrub which line the resacas, depressions filled with standing water in the prairie which formerly served as one of the mouths of the Rio Grande. "In spite of living in such dense and impene trable tangles, the green jay is not a difficult bird to observe, because its habits are characteristic of practically all jays throughout the world. It is bold, impertinent, and full of curiosity, and is highly social or gregarious, except for the breed ing season. The bird goes about, consequently, in small flocks of eight to fifteen individuals, and the approach of their haunts by man is almost certain to bring them out in the open to look at him. "They have a great variety of harsh screaming notes, varied with a medley of caws, toots, and whistles, and for a few minutes noisily hover about the intruder from a discreet distance and then melt silently away into the bush and are sel dom seen again unless deliberately followed up. Farther south they wander through the more open forests, and in Yucatan I would suddenly find myself surrounded by a screaming flock where a moment before the forest had seemed quite silent and empty, and after satisfying their curiosity they would disappear as mysteriously as they had arrived. "In spite of its gorgeous coloring, the green jay is surprisingly inconspicuous in its haunts. The green upper parts are not easily seen against the background of the forest, and the golden yellow merges surprisingly well with the dapple yellow light of the more open glades." ARIZONA JAY (Aphelocoma sieberi ari zonae) Early in November, 1913, ascending the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, my guide kept me in the saddle all day long ex cept for a brief rest at noon. We had crossed many miles of arid plains with cacti on every hand. Then we had climbed upward until late in the afternoon, when by a little rill we prepared to spend the night. A headache, induced by the long ride in a beat ing, bright sunlight, caused me to spread my sleeping bag in the shade of one of the scrub oaks which dotted the ridges. The guide un saddled the horses and took them to a distant grazing ground, while I lay with eyes closed, hoping for the pain to pass. I had not been rest ing long when a jarring, querulous note sounded from the limbs above, and there, only a few yards distant, was a pair of Arizona jays. Three others quickly appeared, and for some time they engaged in a critical examination of our duffel and of the recumbent form under the scrub-oak tree. The next day I saw others; so, evidently, they were common in the oak belt. After entering the pine woods covering the upper regions of the mountains, no more of them were seen. It was in December, 1873, that Robert Ridg way, writing in the Bulletin of the Essex Insti tute, described this bird from specimens taken in Pima County, Arizona. Its eggs were not dis covered by a naturalist until 1876. It is one of the various western jays having a clearly marked and extensive range. Since Ridgway's publica tion concerning it the bird has been found by students in various regions. Its breeding range is believed now to cover the upper Austral Zone of southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and parts of the neighboring Mexican States of Chi huahua and Sonora. The nest of this jay is made usually in scrub oaks, at a height of from o1 to 15 feet from the ground. It is a rather untidy, loosely con structed affair of twigs and rootlets. When horsehair can be found, this also is employed. As a rule, the eggs are four or five in number, al though six, or even seven, have been found in some nests. They are light greenish blue and are the only jay eggs in America which are not decorated with dots or spots. Major Charles Bendire, writing of these jays in Arizona sixty years ago, said that he often saw them in spring along a near-by creek, "evidently on a raid, after eggs and the young of smaller birds, which breed in abundance here." The food of the Arizona jay consists of insects of various kinds as well as of acorns, wild fruit, and a wide variety of seeds and nuts. They bury many acorns which later grow into trees. COUCH'S JAY (A. s. couchi). This form of the Arizona jay occurs in the "Chisos Moun tains, central-western Texas, to southern Nuevo Leon and northern Coahuila."