Green Jays of the Rio Grande Valley


Of all the birds in the United Sates, I might have to argue that this one, the green jay, is the most stunning, the most colorful, the most beautiful of them all. This is a tall claim. We have some pretty sweet looking birds across our monster of a country. And although some may argue that this title should be reserved for the painted bunting, which are in fact even brighter and have even more colors, the sheer size and flamboyant jay-like behavior of the greens trump all.

Sitting in a pit blind dug down into the dust and limestone of the Rio Grande Valley, this bird was at the top of my list of “I wants.”

I remember that first moment when they arrived to the small watering hole the blind was positioned in front of. Desert cardinals flitted about. A roadrunner was cooing from deep inside of the thorn brush just out of sight. Everything about this experience was exotic, as is just about all wildlife experiences along the Rio Grande. But then they happened. A flash of green darts past. Then another one, displaying edges of bright yellow in the process. And for a moment, I was not South Texas, but instead, stuffed inside of blind and engulfed in the emerald robes of a lowland tropical rainforest.

The rainforest bit is actually fitting. In all of their range, the green jay is primarily a bird of the neotropical rainforest. Only along the most northern edge of its range does this species of jay suddenly ditch to humid and lush realm of these forests for the dry and arid scrub that so dominates this landscape.

With the most precarious of toe holds in the southernmost part of the US, the green jay’s population stretches south hugging the Caribbean coast of Central America. Once this bird reaches the El Sylva Maya – the Mayan Forest – of the Yucatan and Belize – its population skyrockets and then abruptly ends. Once you hit Nicaragua and the isthmus of Panama, these birds are non-existent even though the habitat is ideal. But once in South America, the green jay suddenly reappears again as a separate and distinct population that runs down the edge of much of the Andes. This second population of green jays is quite distinct from their northern cousins in appearance and are now called the Inca Jay.

Like most species of corvids – which includes jays, ravens, crows, rooks, jackdaws, etc. – the green jay will readily take up tool use with the challenge calls for it.

Photos like these are made one way, and that is by setting up very specific perches of natural vegetation near food or water sources. Hence the blind. Hence the water source. And when done correctly, the results can be breathtaking.

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