By Alexandria Simpson

Green Jay

Photo courtesy of Debi Simpson

When you think of jays what color first comes to mind? Probably blue. You can imagine my surprise when I saw my first Green Jay on a birding trip to Laguna Atascosa National Wild Reserve in south Texas. They are beautiful lime green, similar to the coloration in many parrots.

Just in case you prefer blue on your jays, the Green Jay does not disappoint; its crown and nape are bright blue. These long-tailed birds have yellow-green bellies and bold black facial patterns. The male and female are colored the same. Their beautiful green and blue plumage helps them blend in with the dappled sunshine and shade in their semi-tropical woodland habitat. Green Jays are about ten inches from bill to tail, thirteen inches from wing tip to wing tip, and weigh about three ounces.

The Atascosa reserve is home to many Green Jays, but one is distinctly different. One of the Green Jays is all blue, missing yellow pigmentation. Instead of green, this unique individual is a dull blue-gray. This blue variant of the Green Jay is famous at the reserve and highly photographed.

a typical colored Green Jay (left) and the blue variant  
Blue variant of Green Jay (right), Photo courtesy of Debi Simpson 

The Green Jay is one of many tropical specialty species in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and is found nowhere else in the United Sates. In fact, it is the only regular jay species seen in the lower Rio Grande Valley (Brown Jays are rare sightings). Green Jays are non-migratory birds.

Green Jays are generally noisy and quite aggressive, like the other members of the Corvidae family (which includes jays, ravens, magpies, and nutcrackers). They are brave and very curious birds. I have seen them perched atop a javelina more than once. They look quite funny enjoying their free ride..

Green Jay and javelina
A Green Jay hitches a ride on a javelina, Photo courtesy of Debi Simpson

Groups of Green Jays are called bands, parties, or scolds. They can be found around ponds surrounded by mesquite trees, and sometimes in citrus groves, in small family groups of four to nine. These family groups include the parents, last year’s chicks, and this year’s chicks. The older chicks help defend their parents’ territory. After two years the chicks leave the group to start a family of their own.


Groups of Green Jays are called bands, parties, or scolds, Photo courtesy of Debi Simpson
Both the male and female help select and build the nest. Green Jays build a cupped nest made from thorny twigs, using roots, stems, moss, or dry leaves to line the bottom. The female lays two to five gray-lilac, green, or buff-colored eggs with brown or purple markings. Only the female sits on the nest. The male brings her food six times a day until about five days after the eggs hatch. After that the female helps feed the chicks.

Studies show that members of the Corvid family are among the most intelligent birds. Green Jays have been known to use sticks out pick bugs out of tree bark. When feeding in groups, these omnivores start at the bottom of a tree and work their way up to the top in a spiral motion, eating insects, seeds, and fruit.

Green Jays are interesting birds to watch, especially when they cock their heads and look at you inquiringly. Their beautifully-colored plumage and loud, aggressive behavior provide plenty of entertainment.