Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Jays, Crows, and Ravens of Maricopa County


Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri

The Steller's Jay is found in mountain coniferous forests in it's range throughout western North America.  This beautiful jay is distinctive, having a long and pointed crest, much longer than other jays in North America.  The Steller's Jay has a variety of different vocalizations, which include the imitation of a Red-tailed Hawk.  If a Red-tailed Hawk is nearby, the Steller's Jay may imitate it's scream, which makes other birds aware of it's presence.  Steller's Jays are usually found in medium-sized flocks and can be solitary, feeding on nuts and seeds, insects, fruits, and human leftovers at campsites.  In campgrouds, Steller's Jays are commonly thought of as "campsite birds", and gather together when there are high food sources.  The Steller's Jay is very common in the northern half of Arizona, found in habitats that consist of high elevation forests.  In Maricopa County, Steller's Jays are annual in the high elevations of the Highway 87 Area (Area 1).  There may be anywhere from small to irruptive numbers, depending on the year.  Try Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks Wilderness for this bird.  In some years on rare occasions, Steller's Jays may wander into lower desert habitats to find more food sources when the normal source is scarce.


Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica

The Western Scrub-Jay is a permanent resident in Maricopa County, where it favors areas especially with open and chaparral hillsides with junipers, and also pine and oak forest.  Like most jays, it is a noisy bird, as it's voice often gives away it's presence.  This bird is often very social, and is usually seen in small flocks.  It is quite the omnivore, eating a variety of food sources including insects, lizards, fruits, seeds, and the young of other birds.  Western Scrub-Jays are most often seen in small flocks actively flying from one tree to another, and are usually shy and hard to approach.  In Maricopa County, good places to see Western Scrub-Jays are:  Area 1 (Four Peaks Wilderness, Sunflower, Bushnell Tanks, Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide) and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek, Mount Humboldt, and Seven Springs Recreation Area).  The Western Scrub-Jay outside of Maricopa County is common throughout Arizona and is widespread throughout the west.  There are other closely related species of Scrub-Jays: the Island and Florida Scrub-Jays, which were all one complex species called Scrub Jay (Western was one of them), and they were before treated as subspecies before a triple split.  The Western Scrub-Jay has two distinct subspecies populations in western North America: one found in the interior west (our bird), and the other one on coastal states, which may be another two separate species.


Common Raven Corvus corax

The title for the largest songbird in North America belongs to the Common Raven.  This big bird is the size of a large hawk, and often soars like one too.  The Common Raven is found throughout the western Lower 48, all of Canada, Alaska, and some of the northeastern parts of the Lower 48.  It is found in a variety of habitats, ranging from hot and arid deserts to high elevation mountains and forests.  The raven is an intellegent bird, and soars and flies throughout the day just for the mere fun of it.  It has a variety of different vocalizations and is a classic example of an omnivore, as it eats a good variety of different foods.  Ravens are often very tame and accept food handouts from people.  The Raven is also solitary much of the time except during winter, where large flocks gather together to feed.  In Maricopa County, the Common Raven can be found throughout the year in any area (Area 1-13), and is much more common in winter, although is is common all year. 


Also keep an eye out for....


Mexican Jay Aphelocoma wollweberi

In pine and oak woodlands in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and south Texas, the Mexican Jay makes it's home in a small North American range.  This noisy jay is often heard, as it travels through woodlands in family groups.  These family groups may have anywhere from 5 to more than 20 birds, where there are a few breeding pairs in the flock, as well as birds that are related that help raise the young and defend territories.  The Mexican Jay is also an omnivorous bird, like the other jays mentioned above.  This bird is very easy to view and is very bold around people.  In Maricopa County, several groups of Mexican Jays come into the county annually, mainly in the spring and summer months, and the bird is generally rare on a county level.  These birds are found in family groups who wander north of their usual range.  Slate Creek Divide (Area 1) is usually the best location for finding the Mexican Jay in Maricopa County with good pine and oak forests .  Mount Ord and Four Peaks (Area 1) are other good possibilities for seeing this species in the county, which are made up of pine and oak forests also.


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