More Green Jay Sightings
by Ro Wauer
When one of North America's most colorful and charismatic tropical birds begin to appear in numbers, while only a few lone sightings were found previously, it suggests the species is more than just a casual visitor. When two green jays appeared in my yard in mid-October 2004, I assumed that those birds were little more than strays. Birds often have a tendency to wander widely after the nesting season, and green jays are no exception. Green jay populations have become established throughout the South Texas Brushlands, from Del Rio to Live Oak and Bee counties, in recent years. But when Christmas Bird Count participants (Paul Julian’s team) discovered 10 individuals off Lower Mission Valley Road in Victoria County in late December, and six or more individuals visited my yard on January 7, those sightings suggest more than just wanderers.
My green jay yard birds were attracted to one on my birdbaths located along the edge of my yard. A few dozen robins, several cardinals, and a few other songbirds - catbird, white-eyed vireo, pine warbler, and chipping, field, and white-throated sparrows - had already converged on that birdbath when the jays were first discovered. Perhaps they had been there longer. They remained only for a couple hours and I was able to take a few distant photos. But all the while they were shy and reticent to spend much time in the open with me sitting about 60 feet away with camera in hand. Green jays, even in the Valley, seldom spend time in the open; they prefer thorn scrub woodland and thick brushy areas. And also in the Valley they seem to thrive very well in well-vegetated residential areas.
Green jays might be considered the epitome of a tropical bird that has become established north of the Rio Grande. It is one of the most sought after birds that birders come to Texas to see; a target species for thousands of birders who flock to South Texas annually. Yet, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley it is commonplace. But somehow, even after one has seen it dozens of times, it is one of those marvelous birds that one cannot help but look at time and time again. About the same size as our common blue jay, the green jay has a green back, yellow outer tail feathers, pale green underparts, black bib, and a blue and black head pattern. That description hardly does it justice; one needs to actually see one in person to truly appreciate its gorgeous plumage.
Because green jays are sulkers, spending much time out of sight, they often are first detected by their rather distinct calls, like "chi-chi-chi-chi-chih" or "shrink, shrink, shrink." They also have a dry rattle call and short low 'snore" note. And when disturbed by a predator or human observer, they can give a thin screech call.
In "Nesting Birds of a Tropical Frontier," Tim Brush’s recent and excellent book (Texas A&M Univ. Press, 2005) about birds in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, there is an optimistic comment about green jays' ability to survive in developed areas. He claims that it is able "to maintain high population densities in thorn forest and in places where Bronzed Cowbird parasitism is highest. Their ability to detect and avoid aflatoxin-tainted grain at feeders may be beneficial. Negative factors include rapid human population growth and the possible harmful effects if xerification continues in the Valley."
Although it is still too early to assume green jays will become a full-time resident in Victoria and adjacent counties, although they already are resident in Goliad and Bee counties. What with heavy development in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the fact of global warming, if forced to guess what will occur with green jays in the next few years, I suspect they will become more and more numerous and even nest in Victoria County. They surely would be welcome in my yard!