Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE LONG-CRESTED JAY is a large blue jay about 12 inches in length. This jay has a distinct high black crest on the top of its head, a conspicuous broad white streak extends a short distance above each eye, and its forehead is streaked with bluish white. The wings and tail are a deep blue, finely barred with black, while the rump and under parts are a light blue. This jay is a common and conspicuous resident on both rims of the Grand Canyon and is one bird which, because of its brilliant coloring and noisy nature, thrusts itself upon the visitor's attention.

There is considerable argument regarding the food of this bird. Investigation has shown that insect life constitutes about one-third of the food and vegetation about two-thirds. There is no denying the fact that these jays do eat eggs and nestlings of other birds when they get a chance. Acorns form a staple article of their diet and in harvesting them, the birds have to compete with chipmunks and ground squirrels. The jays usually do not store a large number of acorns in any one place but hide them singly by burying them an inch or two deep in soft loamy soil and covering the cache with fallen leaves to hide it from the prying eyes of the chipmunks and ground squirrels. In burying the acorns, the jays unintentionally serve as natural foresters, since many of the acorns are never recovered but sprout and grow, thus replenishing the forest.

The jays are the sentries of the forest and are quick to give a warning alarm signal whenever danger threatens or a strange animal approaches. In areas outside the national parks and monuments deer hunters, particularly, are frequently exasperated by the jays giving a warning cry and spoiling the chance of bagging some wise old buck.

The nest of the long-crested jay is a bulky affair but it is usually well concealed, often in a dense small coniferous tree or in brush. It is composed of twigs and dry grasses and often lined with rootlets or fine grass. Sometimes it is cemented with mud in the same manner that the robin cements its nest.

On October 30, 1930, I found long-crested jays fairly numerous on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon near El Tovar. They were very watchful and would cock their heads on one side peering intently for any scrap of food that might be dropped or discarded by the visitor. While long-crested jays may be considered as scavengers and pirates, as well as watchmen, the mountains and canyons would be dull indeed without their flash of blue as they flit from tree to tree.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010