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Jays are part of the order Passeriformes, sometimes called songbirds or perching birds. Both terms describe typical behaviors. They are also part of the Corvidae family, including several familiar species, such as nuthatches, ravens, and crows. The resemblance is easy to see. However, the evolutionary history of the jays is complicated since they are so widespread across the globe.
The intelligence of birds in this family is well known. Documented tool use among them is a sophisticated skill, making them some of the more intelligent species you’ll see. It’s part of what makes them so fun to watch and may also help explain their evolutionary success that goes back about 17 million years.
There are 10 living species of jays in North America, with others found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They occupy a wide variety of habitats. Generally, they are vocal birds that are omnivorous. However, you’ll also see specialization in their diets and behavior that reflect their ecological niches. Other common characteristics include highly developed social skills, communication, and adaptability.
The Blue Jay has a widespread presence in the eastern and central United States. This species is vocal, like other of this group. It also imitates a variety of calls of other birds, including Red-tailed and Broadwing Hawks. Its population is stable, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
The Southeastern Blue Jay is a subspecies of the more common species of its name. Its colors are more muted. It is the smallest of the four subspecies. It lives in the forested areas of Georgi, Florida, and the surrounding area. The population has declined in recent years due to pressure from urban development and habitat encroachment.
The Island Scrub-jay is a Californian bird species that occupies the central coast of the state. It is a medium-sized bird with an omnivorous diet that even includes rodents. It has a relatively small range compared to other jays we’ve considered. It is a vulnerable species because of its decreasing population.
The Western Scrub-jay, also known as the California Scrub-jay, is smaller than many others on our list. It is another example of an adaptable bird that tolerates humans and their activities. While it prefers lowland forests, it will occupy urban areas and gardens. It is a highly intelligent species with an excellent memory. It is a species of least concern.
The Florida Scrub-jay lives primarily in the southern shrublands of the state. It is a tropical bird that prefers ground cover instead of dense trees, mainly after wildfires have cleared the land. Development and habitat encroachment have decreased its numbers in recent years, making it a vulnerable species.
The Brown Jay differs from many species in this group because of its color, curved beak, and long tail. Its primary habitat is the eastern coast of Mexico into Central America. Its varied diet includes reptiles and even nectar. It is a year-round resident of the savannas and forest of this area. It is a species of least concern, with a stable population.
The Steller’s Jay is unmistakable, with its black head and long crest. It lives in the western United States, north into Canada and Alaska, and south to Mexico. It occupies a variety of forest types and even gardens. This adaptable species has an increasing population, making it a species of least concern.
The Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay is another western species that lives in a variety of forest types. It is a slender, medium-sized bird that is both adaptable and intelligent. Its memory is excellent, allowing it to find cached acorns, whether they are theirs or another bird’s stash. It is a species of least concern, with a stable population.
Also known as the Grey Jay, the Canada Jay is the northernmost species of this group. It lives throughout Canada into Alaska. It is a species of least concern, with an estimated population of 26 million birds. One of the primary threats to this forest-dwelling jay is climate change and the accompanying extreme weather events.
The Yucatan Jay differs from others in this group because of its black color and blue wings. It lives primarily in the peninsula of its name, extending into Guatemala and Belize. This bird has adapted well to the presence of humans and forest clearing, with increasing numbers that have placed it as a species of least concern.
The Mexican Jay lives in the moist subtropical and tropical forests of Mexico, stretching north into the American Southwest. There are five subspecies of this bird. Its primary foods are pine nuts and acorns, which it will hoard as many jay species do. It is a species of least concern, although its numbers have dropped in recent years.
Related Read: 9 Birds That Look Like Blue Jays
The Amami Jay is native to Japan and the nearby islands. It lives in both evergreen and broadleaved forests. Acorns are a vital component of its diet. However, the bird is also an opportunistic feeder that will occasionally forage in farm fields. It supplements its diet with small reptiles and insects when necessary. Its decreasing numbers make it a vulnerable species.
The Green Jay is a North American species living in Mexico with ranges extending to South America. It lives in the shrublands, savannas, and forests of these areas, extending into Bolivia, Venezuela, and Peru. It is one of the southernmost species in North America. Its population is stable with increasing numbers in recent years. It is a species of least concern.
The name of the Unicolored Jay is appropriate for this all blue-colored bird. It lives in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Its habitat is the cloud or moist, subtropical forests of these areas where it is a year-round resident. While its numbers are decreasing, it’s still considered a species of least concern, according to the IUCN.
The Siberian Jay lives across Central Europe through the Russian Federation and into the northern reaches of Sweden and Norway. It prefers dense, boreal forests where it is a year-round resident. The bird is relatively long-lived, with a lifespan of up to 7 years. While its numbers have been decreasing, it is considered a species of least concern, according to the IUCN.
As the name would suggest, the Sichuan Jay is a resident of China, where it lives in the forested areas in a relatively small number of places throughout the country. It is a social bird that forms small flocks with other jays. It’s a relatively early-breeding species, forming pairs and mating in early spring. The population is declining, making it a vulnerable species, according to the IUCN.
You’ll find the Crested Jay in the forested areas of Singapore, Thailand, and the nearby countries. It is a year-round resident in these places. Unfortunately, its numbers have declined in the last 30 years, putting it in the IUCN’s near-threatened category. Threats include fire suppression, logging, and exploitation from the cagebird pet trade.
The Ultramarine Jay is also known as the Transvolcanic Jay because it inhabits the Transvolcanic Belt of central Mexico, extending into the American Southwest. It occupies the montane forests and mountain lowlands in these areas. While pinyon nuts and acorns are their main foods, these birds will also take a variety of insects. It is a species of least concern.
The Turquoise Jay is a South American species found in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. It lives in the subtropical and tropical forests of these countries. It is a striking bird, as the name would indicate. Little is known of the life history of this species, given its habitat. However, its population appears stable, making it a species of least concern.
The Eurasian Jay lives across Europe and into Asia, all the way into China. There are 33 subspecies of this bird. It lives in a variety of habitats, particularly those with oak trees. Like many others in this group, this species prefers acorns. However, the jay will also eat fruits, invertebrates, and insects. Its extensive range and generalist diet reflect its adaptability, making it a species of least concern.
As you’ve seen, the many types of jays are a diverse group of birds that are adaptable to a wide range of habitats, making them cosmopolitan species. Their intelligence and social behavior have allowed them to fill a variety of niches, including those occupied by humans. While most species have stable populations, development and habitat encroachment remain significant threats.
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Featured Image Credit: JudaM, Pixabay
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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