While many types of jays are common in the U.S., there is one species that is a specialty only to southern Texas. This colorful and social jay is typically found in Mexico and parts of Central America. Let’s look at 12 facts about Green Jays, and find out about their unique characteristics.
12 Facts about Green Jays
1. Males and females look similar.
Both males and females have the same plumage and brilliant green feathers. The ombre of yellow-green, blue, and black is striking. This bird can blend in with light green foliage or stand out against a backdrop of coastal brush.
The Green Jay’s head is black with blue accents around its eyes. Small blue feather tufts perch like eyebrows over its eyes. A blue stripe comes down the front of its head and adorns its cheeks. The body is blue, green, and yellow. It has a greenish back, wings, and tail, but the underside is pale yellow.
2. The only place in the United States to see them is Texas.
The Green Jay is a thoroughly tropical bird. Most of their population is found along Mexico’s east and west coasts, and the Yucatan peninsula to Honduras. However, the very northern edge of their range reaches into the southern tip of Texas, where they are considered a South Texas specialty.
Green Jays don’t migrate, so you can expect to see them year-round within their range. They will shift around between breeding and feeding sites, however, in order to capitalize on the growing season.
3. They travel in flocks.
Green Jays are the opposite of solitary birds. They almost always live in pairs or family groups that contain a nesting pair, their new young and the previous seasons young. When feeding, the flock can send out a few birds as lookouts for predators. Other birds work as scouts to identify new food sources.
Once the young males in the group get to be a year or so old, the adult male will chase them off, forcing them to break from the group and go establish their own.
4. They have complex social networks.
Green Jays are very family-oriented. Most flocks of Green Jays are related to each other in some manner. Once a mated pair’s young fledge, they stay with their parents’ flock for about a year. During this intermediate period, they learn techniques to forage for food, ways to defend territory, and how to use tools. To greet their elders, they call to them and hop up and down on their perches.
5. There are two similar populations that are often lumped together.
Scientists recognize two separate populations of Green Jay. The first, which we are discussing in this article, lives in Mexico and southern Texas. A second group called “Inca Jays”, with a slightly different look, lives in a strip of habitat along the Andes Mountains from north-central South America south to Bolivia. They are separated by about 900 miles.
Sometimes these are listed as separate species, and sometimes the Inca’s are looked at as a subspecies of the Green Jay. These two populations have slightly differently colored feathers. Inca Jays are similar to the Green Jays, but their underparts are brighter shades of yellow. Instead of having blue on the top and back of their head, they have white.
6. They can be attracted to bird feeders with moderate effort.
It’s simple work to entice Green Jays to your yard, but be careful. If there’s one Green Jay there, there will probably soon be several more! These birds are not picky and will eat almost any kind of seed or suet. Similar to Blue Jays, they prefer large nuts like peanuts.
7. Parents work together to raise their young.
Males and females mate for the long term. While it is not known if these birds mate for life, the interconnectedness of their family relationships suggests that long-term partnerships are at least common.
After the male woos the female with mutual preening, soft burbling noises, and spending time one-on-one, they build the nest together. Texas populations select brushy thickets and favor mesquite. The young often patrol the outer reaches of the territory, which can reach over 40 acres!
8. Their behavior is similar to Blue Jays and Steller’s Jays.
Like Blue Jays and Steller’s Jays, Green Jays are not very afraid of humans or their developments. While Blue Jays are more common in suburban areas, all three species are commonly seen at campsites and rural parks. They will beg for food and scavenge around trash cans and refuse piles.
Other shared characteristics include a broad vocabulary, highly territorial natures, and a tendency to be more curious than afraid. None of these three species of birds is very subtle, either!
Blue Jays are known for their ability to mimic the sound of common hawks such as red-tailed and red-shouldered. This can frighten away other bird species from food sources they want for themselves. Green Jays are also known to use this behavior and have been observed mimicking other large bird species, like Plain Chachalacas, to scare away other birds.
9. Populations in Texas are thriving.
Conditions in southern Texas continue to be hospitable to Green Jays. There, they enjoy mild winters, abundant foliage and berry bushes, and non-threatening human development. They are free to spread out in territories averaging about 40 square acres, which isn’t possible in smaller habitat zones.
10. Green Jays are omnivores.
Like crows and blue jays, Green Jays eat almost anything they can get their beaks on. They are consummate foragers, searching for everything from fruit to the helpless nestlings of other birds. Some have been known to eat mice and small amphibians.
11. They prefer habitats near water sources.
Along the scrubby desert coast, freshwater is a crucial resource. Green Jays take advantage of that by preferring to nest and live nearby reliable water sources. This provides them with well-developed foliage to perch, nest, and forage in.
It’s also more likely that they will find food sources near freshwater. Insects, an essential part of their diet, are more plentiful near lakes, rivers, and streams.
12. Green Jays are one of the few North American bird species to use tools
These birds are members of the family Corvidae, the same family as crows and ravens. Their intelligence expresses itself by way of the complexity of these birds’ communications, their ability to work together, and the use of tools.
Green Jays have been observed using sticks to lift pieces of bark away from the tree, exposing insects beneath that they can eat. They are one of the few North American bird species known to use tools, alongside their cousins the crows and magpies.
Anna is a wildlife biologist who graduated from Texas A&M in 2020. She enjoys feeding, studying, and taking photos of wild birds and hummingbirds. She once worked as the hummingbird department manager at a Wild Birds Unlimited store.