National Geographic : 1933 Jan
CROWS, MAGPIES AND JAYS CALIFORNIA JAY (Aphelocoma califor- SANTA CRUZ JAY (Aphelocoma insu nica californica) laris) The "blue jay" of California is quite different in appearance from the bird of the Central and Eastern States that bears that name. The blue is a different shade, there are no conspicuous white patches on the wings, and the bird has no crest on its head. He is one of the noisiest birds in California and is thoroughly disliked by a con siderable portion of the people. But he is a very vigorous character, alert, bold, prying, and at times startling in his lusty shouts. These quali ties arrest the attention and many admire him. Like all characters possessing strong person alities, he is both loved and hated. Some of his food habits have brought him into disrepute, for undoubtedly he is an agency of considerable destruction to the small birds of the country. However, this loss seems to have been balanced by a wise Providence, for when a bird's eggs or its young are taken it will invariably lay again; so California is very rich in bird life, despite the fact that by eggs and by nestlings it must help to feed the jay population. Mr. Mailliard, California ornithologist, relates instances of this bird's destructiveness to garden products. Of one case he wrote: "I remember one spring when a patch of about an acre and a half was sown with a mixture of peas and oats, and the peas were pulled up as fast as sprouted, by the jays, so that the crop consisted of oats alone . . I shot over forty, one afternoon on this occasion, and a good many more on suc ceeding days, but they soon became so wary, that it was impossible to get another shot after one was killed-and still the crop was destroyed." It has remained for a woman, Irene Grosvenor Wheelock, to present one of the most scathing denunciations recorded of this jay. In part she says : "He is one of the greatest trials a bird-lover must encounter, and I know no reason why the law should protect him to the destruction of our beloved birds of song and beauty. Were he of benefit to the farmer or to the fruit grower, no word of dispraise would I offer; but he not only robs them, but also destroys annually hundreds of feathered creatures which, living upon harmful insects, would be of great assistance in preserv ing the crops. No hawk is more destructive to small birds than he is. Ruthlessly he robs every nest in his vicinity that is left unguarded long enough for him to carry off the eggs or young. Not content with this he pulls down and breaks up the nest itself. Usually he prefers the newly hatched babies to the raw albumen, and waits for the incubation to be finished. I have seen him sneaking around the nest of a pewee day after day until the eggs hatched, when he at once made a breakfast on the nestlings-in this case, calmly disregarding the cries of the poor little mother. .. . About the farms he is even a greater pest, eating the eggs and occasionally kill ing the newly hatched chicks." The California jay ranges the coast region of California from San Francisco Bay to Mexico and to the eastern base of the Coast Ranges. There are other races of this species which are discussed under "Woodhouse's jay." There is only one of the Santa Barbara Island group on which any jay is found. This is the island of Santa Cruz, and since the jay which lives here is found nowhere else in the world, it has been very appropriately named the Santa Cruz jay. The island home of this species lies in the Pacific Ocean 20 miles or a little more from the coast of Ventura County, California. Santa Cruz is about 22 miles in length. Although it is a rocky region, abundant soil is available, so trees, shrubs, and gardens thrive without diffi culty. The jay is unquestionably its most com mon bird. Few species have such a restricted range within which every individual of its tribe is confined. They have done well in their island home, and are larger than their relatives in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, visible over the sea to the eastward. The length of the Santa Cruz jay is more than 13 inches, thus exceeding by an inch or two the measurement of its mainland cousin, the noisy and none too popular A. cali fornica. Bulky nests are built among the limbs of trees or bushes only a few yards from the ground, and the three to five lightly spotted eggs are deposited usually in March or in April. This bird was first discovered to science in June, 1875, by the naturalist H. W . Henshaw. Since then other scientific men have visited Santa Cruz for the specific purpose of making its ac quaintance. One such student was W. L. Daw son and regarding the bird and its environment. he wrote: "This gem of the islands belongs to him by unquestioned title, and he has no need to defend his claim by frantic protest or scurrilous abuse. "This demure quality shows itself to best ad vantage when his nest is threatened, for it is then, if ever, that a bird's soul is tried. Yet I have spent an hour beside a nest of jay babies with never a word of protest from the closely attendant parents, beyond a mellow and almost inaudible choop choop-this and the sound of pecking on tree limbs, for even this gentle bird employs the familiar corvine device for reliev ing surcharged feelings. But this jay is capable of vigorous expression, and the variety and sug gestive affinity of its note are worth considering. "There is first, the Aphelocomine scolding cry of common use, but this is fuller, rounder, and much less than harsh. Then there is a djay, djay note which distinctly recalls that of Cyano citta stcllcri. Lastly this note is so modified and accelerated as to strikingly simulate the rickety rack rack or shack, shack, shack, shack of the magpies. I know the magpie's voice better than the baying of a hound, but I have leaped to my feet and reached for the glasses at this jack, jack call before realizing that there are no magpies on Santa Cruz Island." Little has been recorded of the feeding habits of this bird, but, in common with other jays, it is known to eat nuts, insects, and eggs.