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Know Your Neighbors: The California Scrub Jay

How great is he? Just ask him.

Know Your Neighbors: The California Scrub Jay Know Your Neighbors: The California Scrub Jay Know Your Neighbors: The California Scrub Jay Know Your Neighbors: The California Scrub Jay Know Your Neighbors: The California Scrub Jay

He’s a party animal who drinks too much, spills his food,  talks too loud, and laughs at his own jokes. He’s vain, pushy, and a potluck’s worst nightmare – always the first to arrive and the last to leave. Oh, he’s smart all right, and wants everyone within earshot to know it.

His wife is just as bad.  As for their kids, let’s just say the nuts don't fall far from the tree. None of them can hold a polite, normal conversation. They have to scream about everything.

“HEY, I SEE A CAT FOOD!”

“WOW, I SEE IT TOO!”

“I LOVE CAT FOOD!”

“ME TOO!”

They’re the Western Scrub Jay, and here in Altadena we have the subspecies California Scrub Jay. It's part of the family Corvidae, which includes magpies and crows. The scrub jay measures about 12 inches from stem to stern and comes in a lovely shade of Van Gogh blue.

Scrub jays are inquisitive, industrious, highly intelligent, and mate for life. When it comes to enemies, real or perceived, scrub jays may talk a good game, but they’re not fighters; instead,  they prefer to pester their opposition into submission, making sorties in pairs or jay gangs. Any animal that poses a threat can be a target – a hawk, an owl, your cat. You.

Like the crow, scrub jays have been observed using tools.  Also like the crow, they’re particularly susceptible to the avian flu West Nile Virus.

The virus appears to be rearing its ugly head once again. An infected crow was . Likely it's in our neck of the woods, too.

Not to sound like a defeatist, but the worst is, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. Oh, a couple of things, and in these areas we should be most vigilant.

Since West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitoes, controlling the mosquito population is thus far the only way to have any impact.  Check your own garden regularly for hidden sources of standing water – flower pots, buckets, rain gutters, French drains, bird baths, pet dishes, yes. But also look for some areas of ground near the sprinklers where the water doesn't drain properly. Next, report standing pools or bodies of water you see on deserted properties, vacant fields, foreclosed houses and the like. Finally, report dead birds, as these reports can lead to locating a mosquito breeding ground.

The West Nile epidemic back in 2007 and 2008 had a disastrous impact on the whole corvidae family, and some estimates put the decrease in the scrub jay population as high as 30 percent. In fact, anecdotally, this is the first year I’ve seen jays in my yard in years. And it's really nice having them back again, demanding this and that and always telling me how great they are.

Every morning I shake out some of their favorite food – cat kibble.  I’ve tried substituting bird seed and sunflower seeds, but this just brought on a whole litany of early morning complaints. So I had no choice but to stock up on their favorites, like dry Kitty Chicken Nuggets or Tuna Surprise.  They say scrub jays can be trained; apparently, so can I.

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