National Geographic : 1933 Jan
CROWS, MAGPIES AND JAYS FLORIDA JAY (Aphelocoma coerules cens) The ornithologist rarely forgets the time and circumstances when he first made the acquaint ance of a bird which he had not previously seen. Forty-three years ago a water oak stood just back of the blacksmith shop, in the village of Archer, Alachua County, Florida. Here for sev eral hours one day a strange bird sat on its top most twig and called in a harsh, inquiring voice. I had never seen nor heard such a bird, so the impression it made was lasting. Later I learned that it was a Florida jay, and that it was at the extreme northern limit of its range. Not one of them has ever been noted in that neighborhood since that single wanderer made its brief visit. This jay is very local in its occurrence. It is not found in the extensive pinelands, the heavy growths of hardwood about the lakes, or in the numerous swamps, prairies, and marshes that dot the State. It dwells only where there are dense growths of scrub oak, or of other shrubby bushes, or in the pine areas immediately adjoin ing these places. Such favored regions are scat tered here and there over about half of the Florida Peninsula. The bird is found in many places in the imme diate vicinity of the Atlantic coast, from St. Au gustine to Rockdale, south of Miami. Along the Gulf coast it occurs from about the mouth of the Suwannee River southward to Naples. Inland it occupies territory northward from Naples to Palatka and the Orange Lake country. A short distance outside of Leesburg, in Lake County, Florida, I came upon a sandy area cov ered with bushes from four to six feet high. This looked like Florida jay country, and although I had seen no bird of this species in all that section, I began a search and within ten minutes found four of them. They were feeding on the ground by the side of one of the overgrown cement side walks laid down by an optimistic real-estate com pany. The birds seemed rather tame. They merely flew from bush to bush and watched quietly, as though waiting for me to leave. Where one of these slender jays is found, there is almost sure to be others, for they live in small colony groups. Among the low dunes close to the ocean, not far from New Smyrna, I once counted fourteen in a few minutes. They are not so noisy as the blue jays, nor have I ever heard them engage in any wide vari ety of "songs" and calls. Mr. A . H. Howell, who has in many places gathered notes on the Florida jay, tells of visiting Miss Werner, who, at her home near Sebring, has won the confidence of her jay neighbors. "She whistles a bright little tune and in a few minutes the jays appear from all directions, and without hesitation alight on her arm or shoulder, to take the pieces of bread she offers them. She told us she had been a year or more taming the birds, and that it was a month or more before she could get them near her. At the time of our visit, however, they had become so used to strangers that they allowed us to feed them, and even alighted on our heads or shoulders." In low oaks these jays nest, making of twigs and rootlets the cradle for their young, and they lay three or four olive-green, black-spotted eggs. The length of this bird is ten and three-quar ters inches, this being about one inch shorter than the common blue jay of the Eastern States. WOODHOUSE'S JAY (Aphelocoma cali fornica woodhousei) Adjoining the eastern line of the territory oc cupied by the California jay, we enter the country of the magnificent Woodhouse's jay. It dwells in the foothills and on the mountains to eleva tions of 5,000 to 8,ooo feet, although in winter it often descends to lower altitudes. In scrub-oak trees, junipers, and nut-producing pines common throughout most of its range, it builds its nest of twigs, weed stalks, rootlets, and horsehair. For a tree-loving bird, the situations chosen are unusually low, the nests often being not more than two or three feet from the ground. They are clamorous birds and certainly make no effort to keep their presence a secret, except in the nesting season, when stealth and caution are their habits. They live on a wide variety of food. Insects of different kinds are taken, fruits are eaten, and nuts and acorns form a staple article of diet. This jay is detested by all the small birds of the region, for well they know that in spring he is constantly hunting for their eggs and their nest lings. A collector of scientific specimens, who placed some phoebe eggs on the ground within a few feet of his camp, complained that one of these birds purloined them all while his back was turned for a few minutes. The Woodhouse's jay is found in locations suitable to its habits of life, from southeastern Oregon and southern Wyoming southward to southwestern Texas and westward to southeast ern California. It is one of the group of species californica, forms of which are distributed over much of western and southwestern United States. They are all so similar in appearance that few people can distinguish between them. Two of these, the California and the Wood house's jays have been mentioned. The others, as recognized by ornithologists, are as follows: LONG-TAILED JAY (A. c. immanis). It is found in the valleys and along the mountain slopes from the Washington border southward between the Cascades and Coast Ranges, and in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys of Cali fornia. NICASIO JAY (A. c. oocleptica). The homeland of this member of the Jay family is the coast region of California, from San Francisco Bay northward to Humboldt Bay. BELDING'S JAY (A. c. obscura). This is a Mexican bird found in the northwestern sec tion of Baja California southward to latitude 30°. It occurs for the most part in the hills and moun tains. XANTUS'S JAY (A. c. hypoleuca). Here is another form inhabiting a region to the south ward of our border, viz., the cape region of Baja California and from there on northward to latitude 29° TEXAS JAY (A. c. texana). Its range lies in the central and central-western regions of Texas, "from Kerr and Edwards counties to Davis Mountains."