With its brilliant tropical plumage and extremely limited range in the United States, the green jay is often a target bird for birders visiting south Texas. Fortunately, this large jay is easily seen in groups in the right habitat and readily visits feeding stations on refuges or in backyards.
Green Jay, Rio Grande Jay
Cyanocorax yncas, Cyanocorax luxuosus (split from the Inca jay not universally recognized)
- Bill: Black, thick and sturdy, relatively short compared to other corvids
- Size: 10-11 inches long with 15-inch wingspan, long tail
- Colors: White, blue, green, yellow, black, yellow-green, blue-green, brown
- Markings: Genders are similar with a heavily marked head where the nape, crown and cheeks are a rich blue and the forehead is white or blue-white. A black patch extends around the eye to the rear auriculars. The chin, throat and upper chest are black with a neat bib shape to the color. The back is blue-green and the wings are yellow-green. The blue-green tail has yellow outer feathers that are conspicuous in flight. The underparts vary from pale green to green-yellow to a richer yellow depending on the geographic location and subspecies. Undertail coverts are yellow and the legs and feet are black.
Juveniles are similar to adults but with a brown wash on the head and paler overall colors.
Insects, spiders, fruit, seeds, eggs, nuts (See: Omnivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These tropical jays prefer dense riparian thickets and brushy woodland edges in humid habitats. The northernmost part of their range extends to the southern tip of Texas south through eastern Mexico to the Yucatan peninsula. There is a 900-mile gap before the next part of the green jay range, the tropical mountains stretching from Venezuela to Bolivia. Because of that separation, as well as slight differences in plumage, coloration and song, it is believed that the two green jay populations may be separate species, though the split has not been made official.
Green jays do not migrate.
These are very vocal birds with a raspy, loud “shek-shek-shek” call. The harsh notes are repeated in a series of 5-7 syllables. Other calls include an alarm bell call used when the birds are agitated.
Green jays are gregarious, noisy birds that stay in pairs or small family groups. Their personalities range from inquisitive to shy depending on the habitat and the presence of feeding stations. They forage by gleaning low in the canopy or as high as mid-level in trees, and their bright plumage provides surprisingly effective camouflage in scattered sunlight. While foraging, their movements can be swift and abrupt. Their flight is similar to other jays with deep, strong wing beats interspersed with short glides along a slight undulating path.
These are monogamous birds and only one mated pair in a family group will breed, though other adults – often fledglings from the year’s previous brood – will help raise the next generation of chicks. Both male and female birds work together to build a flimsy cup nest of thorny twigs and weeds line with moss, grass and rootlets placed in a tree 5-30 feet high. The oval-shaped eggs are buff, gray-white or pale green in color and marked with dark splotches near the large end, and 3-5 eggs are laid per brood. Only one brood is raised per year.
The female incubates the eggs for 17-18 days, and both parents feed the altricial young (along with help from other mature birds in the family group) for an additional 18-23 days. The juvenile birds will remain with the family group for up to a year until seeking a mate and territory of their own.
Attracting Green Jays:
These birds are opportunistic feeders and will readily visit platform or large hopper bird feeders where suet, corn, nuts, oranges or sunflower seeds are available, and they will often swamp a feeder by visiting in groups and quickly usurping all the food. Sheltering the feeder or a water feature with low trees and shrubs can help green jays feel secure and encourage them to visit. In the field, birders should watch feeding stations at preserves or nature centers, and look for the conspicuous flash of the green jay’s yellow outer tail feathers low in the adjacent canopy.
These corvids have a stable population but can be impacted by habitat loss due to development, particularly in their extremely limited south Texas range. Efforts to protect habitat and provide supplemental feeding stations benefit green jays.
- Inca Jay (Cyanocorax yncas) - Split not universally recognized
- Black-Throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta colliei)
Photo – Green Jay © Dan Pancamo