Jay Yard Bird Stories

Jim Chiropolos

Yard Bird Stories - Scrub and Stellar’s Jays

 I have often wondered which of these species is more assertive and my yard is proving to be a great location to watch the two species interact. Next to the house is gully frequented by Stellar’s Jays. The other side is more open with houses and favored by Scrub Jays, so the yard is a border used by both species.

When I hung a suet feeder, I was fascinated by the interaction. Both species used the suet feeder, but the Scrub Jays quickly asserted dominance and early on one caught a raiding Stellar’s jay and pinned its head against a tree branch with its talons and I was worried that was the end of the Stellar’s Jay (it escaped). Since that time the Stellar’s Jays still raid the feeder but very quietly, fly in low, and use all the available cover. It’s interesting, the favorite Scrub Jay perches are all carefully situated with sightlines to the suet feeder and if a Stellar’s Jay is seen, they quickly drive them away, squawking loudly. Based on this, I thought Scrub Jays were dominant over Stellar’s Jays.

Three weeks ago, I noticed the Stellar’s Jays  start building a next in the wisteria, only 20 feet away from the suet feeder above the gully. Basically, the scene of their defeat at the Scrub Jays. Now completed, the nest is amazing, 5 feet up, and almost completely concealed. At one angle, I can barely see the Stellar’s Jay’s crest poking out when incubating. The Scrub Jays know the nest is there too. Sunday opened to a noisy confrontation between the pairs of Scrub and Stellar’s jays, a loud squawking face-off on the driveway just below the nest. The Stellar’s Jays were not yielding, and kept hopping towards the Scrub Jay pair 2 feet away. The Scrub Jays slowly retreated, followed by the Stellar’s Jays. In the shrub next to the nest, I watched a Stellar’s Jay do a Woodpecker imitation, demolish a small branch, with a Scrub Jay 4 feet away. That was the end of this round, a win for the nesting Stellar’s Jays!

But why would a Stellar Jay build a next near hostile Scrub Jays? If they are not diligent, the Scrub Jays will raid their next. Is a concealed nest more important compared to the near presence of an egg predator? Is this an inexperienced Stellar Jay couple? For a food source - a Scrub Jay is dominant over Stellar’s Jays, but the roles are reversed when a nest is involved. We walk our cats on a leash and we must have been characterized by the nesting Stellar’s Jays as harmless, which is also interesting as we pass by the nest at least twice a day 15 feet away, and also I park my vehicle nearby (our cats are not crazy about a reduced walk area).

Also interesting is how the Stellar’s Jays calls have changed during the nesting. No more of the “machine-gun” call, they are much quieter now. Several time a day, their favorite call is now an imitation Copper’s Hawk call from the Monterey Pine over the nest. It’s a great imitation - it’s fooled me into looking for the local nesting Cooper’s Hawk!

Jim Chiropolos, Orinda

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