Only the most intrepid birders lay eyes on the striking cobalt feathers of the Island Scrub-Jay. They live exclusively on Santa Cruz Island, which is part of California’s Channel Islands National Park. The species has the smallest range of any bird in North America. The jays have few natural predators or competitors for food, letting them grow larger than their continental counterparts. But the birds’ isolation makes them susceptible to diseases such as West Nile Virus. Scientists are considering a vaccination program and possibly relocating some jays to nearby Santa Rosa Island.
Written by Zoie Matthew
This is BirdNote.
Only the most intrepid birders lay eyes on the striking cobalt feathers of the Island Scrub-Jay, one of the rarest songbirds in the US. You’ll have to take a boat about 20 miles to California’s Channel Islands National Park, then trek into the chaparral woodlands of Santa Cruz Island.
[Island Scrub-Jay calls, ML 178633431, 0:40-0:42]
There, an estimated 1,700 Island Scrub-Jays live in monogamous pairs, nesting within island scrub oak trees. The jays have few natural predators or competitors for food, letting them grow larger than their continental counterparts.
[Island Scrub-Jay calls, ML 111893, 0:14-0:16]
But the birds’ isolation makes them susceptible to diseases such as West Nile Virus, which has an 85 percent mortality rate among related California Scrub-Jays. Though the mosquitos that transmit the virus don’t like the islands’ chilly temperatures, climate change could help them spread.
To prepare, scientists have launched an avian vaccination campaign. Another option being considered? Relocate some jays to nearby Santa Rosa Island, where they could help reestablish native oak trees when they bury the acorns in the ground—a double biodiversity win.
[Island Scrub Jay rattle call, ML 111865, 0:06-0:08]
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Content Director: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Island Scrub-Jay ML 178633431 recorded by E. Jimenez, Island Scrub-Jay ML 111893 recorded by T. Burr, and Island Scrub-Jay ML 111865 recorded by T. Burr.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2022 BirdNote July 2022 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# ISSJ-01-2022-07-20 ISSJ-01