|The Western scrub jay is a common year-round resident in So. California. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Toni and Jim McGivern hear the calls of Western scrub jays about 6:30 a.m. and know the birds want breakfast. About 10-15 noisy scrub jays visit their home in Trabuco Canyon every morning for their favorite: unsalted, shelled peanuts.
“One of the bolder ones sits by the window and waits for me to come out,” Toni McGivern said.
The couple enjoys their coffee while watching the birds interact. A few of the birds will take nuts from the tray and fly off. Others prefer to knock nuts on the ground to scrutinize the selection, she says. They pick up a peanut, drop it then pick up another as if weighing each in their bills. The birds seem to know the heaviest peanut contains the largest nut.
“They’re my favorite bird,” she said. “They’re so intelligent.”
Jays belong to the family Corvidae, along with crows and ravens, which are known for their intelligence, memory and curiosity.
Western scrub jays are common year-round residents in Southern California. Western scrub jays include several sub-species that live along the Pacific coast, Santa Cruz Island and in the interior West. The Pacific coastal group, which includes Orange County, has a distinct blue collar and is brighter in color than those of the interior West.
Scrub jays are monomorphic, meaning that there are no differences in the physical characteristics between males and females. They have deep blue wings, tail and head with light gray underparts and a distinctive white throat and eyebrow. At 11 inches in length, wingspans of about 15 inches and long legs and tails, they are larger than most songbirds. Their rounded heads are not crested like its Eastern cousin the blue jay and the Steller’s jays that live in our local mountains, Northern California and throughout most of the Pacific Northwest.
Though scrub jays eat a varied diet that includes insects, seeds, berries, reptiles and small birds, they are known for eating and storing acorns. They have been known to cache up to 6,000 pine seeds or 5,000 acorns in single autumn. The birds scatter the nuts in hiding places for later retrieval. When these acorns are not retrieved, they sprout into seedlings and replenish the forest.
These birds can be quite sneaky when it comes to their food. They will steal acorns from woodpecker caches and rob stores hidden by other jays, then look around to make sure other birds aren’t watching before hiding the food in a new location.Other birds in our area that cache food include acorn woodpeckers, mountain chickadees and nuthatches.