Woodhouse's Scrub Jay

Information about the Bird Woodhouse's Scrub Jay

Woodhouse's scrub jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii), [A] is a species of scrub jay native to western North America. It ranges from southeastern Oregon and southern Idaho to central Mexico. It comprises two distinct subspecies groups. They are Woodhouse's scrub jay (interior US and northern Mexico), and Sumichrast's scrub jay (interior southern Mexico). Woodhouse's scrub jay was once lumped with the California scrub jay, the island scrub jay and collectively called the western scrub jay. It was also lumped with the Florida scrub jay; the taxon was then called, simply, the scrub jay. Woodhouse's scrub jay is nonmigratory and can be found in urban areas, where it can become tame and will come to bird feeders. While many refer to scrub jays as "blue jays", the blue jay is a different species of bird entirely.

Woodhouse's scrub jay is a medium-sized bird, approximately 27-31cm (11-12in) in length (including its tail), with a 39cm (15in) wingspan, and about 80g (2.8oz) in weight. Coastal Pacific birds tend to be brighter in coloration than those of the interior, but all are patterned in blue, white and gray, though none as uniform in color as the related Mexican jay. In general, this species has a blue head, wings, and tail, a gray-brown back, and grayish underparts. The throat is whitish with a blue necklace. The call is described as "harsh and scratchy".
True to its name, Woodhouse's scrub jay inhabits areas of low scrub, preferring pinon-juniper forests, oak woods, edges of mixed evergreen forests and sometimes mesquite bosques. Woodhouse's scrub jays are very common west of the Rocky Mountains, and can be found in scrub-brush, boreal forests, and temperate forests.
Woodhouse's scrub jays usually forage in pairs, family groups, or small non-kin groups, outside of the breeding season. They feed on small animals, such as frogs and lizards, eggs and young of other birds, insects, and (particularly in winter) grains, nuts, and berries. They can be aggressive towards other birds, for example, they have been known to steal hoarded acorns from Acorn Woodpecker granary trees.
Woodhouse's scrub jays, like many other corvids, exploit ephemeral surpluses by storing food in scattered caches within their territories. They rely on highly accurate and complex memories to recover the hidden caches, often after long periods of time. In the process of collecting and storing this food, they have shown an ability to plan ahead in choosing cache sites to provide adequate food volume and variety for the future. Woodhouse's scrub jays are also able to rely on their accurate observational spatial memories to steal food from caches made by conspecifics. To protect their caches from potential 'pilferers', food storing birds implement a number of strategies to reduce this risk of theft. Western scrub jays are also known for hoarding and burying brightly colored objects. Woodhouse's scrub jays have a mischievous streak, and they are not above outright theft. They have been caught stealing acorns from acorn woodpecker caches and robbing seeds and pine cones from Clark's nutcrackers. Some scrub jays steal acorns they have watched other jays hide. When these birds go to hide their own acorns, they check first that no other jays are watching. Western scrub jays sometimes land on the backs of mule deer to eat ticks and other parasites present on the deer. The deer seem to appreciate the help, often standing still and holding up their ears to give the jays access. The scrub jay even will eat peanuts off a human hand.
Recent research has suggested that Woodhouse's scrub jays, along with several other corvids, are among the most intelligent of animals. The brain-to-body mass ratio of adult scrub jays rivals that of chimpanzees and cetaceans, and is dwarfed only by that of humans. Scrub jays are also the only non-primate or non-dolphin shown to plan ahead for the future, which was previously thought of as a uniquely human trait. Other studies have shown that they can remember locations of over 200 food caches, as well as the food item in each cache and its rate of decay. To protect their caches from pilfering conspecifics, scrub-jays will choose locations out-of-sight of their competitors, or re-cache caches once they are alone, suggesting that they can take into account the perspective of others.
The chicks start off fully gray. The older they get, the more they turn blue. On their heads, chicks tend to have a red crest that resembles a comb (Mostly seen on chickens). The chick will lose its crest at day seven, just like the way the baby chickens lose their egg tooth at 5-7 days. Nests are built low in trees or bushes, 1-10m (3.3-32.8ft) above the ground, primarily by the female, while the male guards her efforts. The nests are sturdy, with an outside diameter of 33-58cm (13-23in), constructed on a platform of twigs with moss and dry grasses lined with fine roots and hair. Four to six eggs are laid from March through July, with some regional variations. There are two common shell color variations: pale green with irregular, olive-colored spots or markings; and pale grayish-white to green with reddish-brown spots. The female incubates the eggs for about 16 days. The young leave the nest about 18 days after hatching.
The life span of wild Woodhouse's scrub jays is approximately 9 years.
Populations are being adversely affected by the West Nile virus.
The Woodhouse's, California, Island, and Florida scrub jay were once considered subspecies of a single "scrub jay" species. They are now believed to be distinct. Beyond the close relationship of the "California" and island scrub jays, resolution of their evolutionary history has proven very difficult.
Judging from mtDNA NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 sequence data, it appears there are two clades, namely a Pacific one west and one east of the Rocky Mountains; as these have been split into distinct species.
Woodhouse's scrub jay, woodhouseii group and Sumichrast's scrub jay, sumichrasti group differ in plumage (paler blue above, with an indistinct and usually incomplete breast band) from California scrub jay, californica group) which are darker blue above with a strongly defined - but not necessarily complete - blue breast band. They also differ in ecology and behavior. The Sumichrast's groups are strong and hooked at the tip, as they feed on acorns, whereas the pinyon-nut feeding Woodhouse's group has a longer, slimmer and straighter bill with little or no hook.
Each group contains a number of subspecies. "Sumichrast's scrub jay" stands apart from the others in its altruistic breeding behavior. Its remaining races are generally not quite as pale but have washed-out colors with indistinctly marked borders. Certainly, some gene flow among these populations occurs, but while the hybrid zone between California and Woodhouse's scrub jays is very limited.
The subspecies are:
The name of this species commemorates the American explorer and collector Samuel Washington Woodhouse.
The common name of this subspecies commemorates the Mexican naturalist Francis Sumichrast.

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