Green Jays

Green Jay on perch in South Texas | Thomas Torget

The Green Jay belongs to a very distinctive family of perching birds. The family of the jays, magpies, and crows, the Corvidae, is widespread. They are generally large, often noisy, and intelligent, especially in their ability to obtain and store food. The Green Jay is green on its body and tail with yellow sides and striking blue on the top of the head and on the cheeks. The throat is black. It lives in thorny underbrush and uses thorns in its poorly made nest in a small tree. Four gray eggs with brown spots are incubated. The call is shenk shenk shenk. Blue Jays are familiar in the eastern U.S.; however, the Green Jay is quite localized in the United States, only being found along the Mexican border in Texas, but it also lives south into the tropics. Like most Jays it generally stays around in the winter or maybe moves a little farther south.

Beautiful, Colorful Green Jay in Rio Grande River Valley Texas | Dennis W Donohue

The scientific name for the Green Jay is Cyanocorax yncas, or C. luxuosus, depending on whether the authority considers it to be a subspecies of the Inca Jay of South America. Interestingly, an even more recent arrival of the same genus, the Brown Jay, twice as large and as dull-colored as its name implies, occupies the same area in Texas, as well as farther south. Neither of these Jays has the crest we often picture as an ornament of Jays, but another member of the same genus in Mexico, the Black-throated Magpie Jay, sports a black crest. Jays in general feed on acorns and other plant products, as well as hunted or scavenged meat (National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1998 by John Bull and John Farrand, Jr.). The Green Jay lives in family groups, including the young of previous year, which help defend their territory. This bird is known to use small twigs as tools to extract insects from under bark (

Beautiful and Colorful Green Jay in Southern Texas near the Rio Grande River. | Dennis W Donohue

The Corvidae share another outstanding characteristic that makes them highly adaptable.  Other Jays, including the familiar Blue Jay, are known for their complex behavior, such as remembering where they hide acorns for later retrieval. Other members of the family, particularly Crows, display purposeful behavior generally thought to occur only in higher mammals, such as the primates. The New Caledonian Crow from an Island northeast of Australia has been observed fashioning wedge-shaped tools to extract insects from holes in trees, putting them in the elite group of primates that actually fashion tools. Ravens can learn to pull up food from a well by coordination of beak and foot-over-foot pulling on a rope. Haven’t we all heard Aesop’s fable about the Crow that dropped pebbles into the jar to raise the water level to where it could drink? And yet, oddly, scientists were skeptical until the last thirty years or so that birds show intelligence (“Bird Brainiacs,” National Geographic, February 2018, pp. 108-129, by Virginia Morell).

Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas) on perch Starr, Texas | Danita Delimont

I remember as a child that there were always Blue Jays around my grandparents’ house where there were large oak trees. My most interesting experiences with Jays as an adult were in Colorado where the Gray Jay would always perch just over the heads of picknickers in the montane forests. They always watch you closely. I knew that with the barest opportunity they would swoop down to steal my food. Jays always seem to make themselves known. There is an exception, and that is their careful secretiveness during egg incubation and nesting time.