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There are three species of jays that live within a short drive of Tucson: Western Scrub-Jays, Mexican Jays, and Steller’s Jay. All three species inhabit lands that are at higher elevations than our local desert and I’ve seen none of them down among the mesquite and Saguaros. Western Scrub-Jays seem to be happiest at an altitude of between about 3500 and 5000 feet. Mexican Jays, which look very much like Western Scrub-Jays, seem to prefer higher elevations and tend to hang out at an altitude of between about 5000 and 7500 feet. Seller’s Jays prefer to live in the conifer forests that are at the very tops of our local mountains, at elevations above 7500 feet.
As I’ve said, Western-Scrub Jays and Mexican Jays are very similar in appearance. Here’s an image of a Western Scrub-Jay, one that I published back in January. I found this bird on the lower slopes of the Baboquivari Mountains at about 3500 feet.
Notice the white eyebrow and throat on this bird, as well as the gray cheeks. Those identifying marks tell you that it is a Western Scrub-Jay.
Now, here’s a photo of a Mexican Jay. I made this image last weekend, at the summit of Kitt Peak, about 6800 feet.
Look closely and you’ll see some differences in appearance. This Mexican Jay has no white eyebrow or throat, and its head is solid blue. Mexican Jays are large birds, bigger than mockingbirds or robins. They, as is the case with other jay species, tend to travel in small flocks. They are noisy and aggressive, and very, very intelligent, ranking as being among the most intelligent of birds along with their cousins, crows and ravens.
The bird in this next image is an immature Mexican Jay, as is evidenced by its pale beak. That beak will darken as the bird matures.
And, as I’ve said, one seldom sees solitary Jays. Where one shows up there will always be a cohort, usually only a few feet away.
I noticed that in this particular little flock of about 1/2 dozen birds, the youngster seemed to be always the first to show up at a likely spot where food could be found. I can think of two possibilities to explain this behavior. Either the kid, imbued with the sense of immortality that seems to be a universal quality among the young, was simply taking more risks than his elders, or, the older birds were pushing Junior to the fore as a way of making it pay its dues.
Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO. The final three images were photographed at ISO 500, aperture preferred setting, f6.3 @ 1/2000.