February 18, 2006

Where did the Steller's jays go?

The temperature when I awoke this morning was -12 F (-25 C), so there were not too many birds out and about at first. Around 9 a.m., when I was cutting some kindling for the wood stove, I did hear a blue jay calling. Blue jays are intermittent visitors here, but the dominant local jay is the Steller's jay--until this winter.

Where did they go?

Since the winter of 1993-1994, M. and I have participated in Cornell University's Project Feeder Watch, doing what a friend called "grunt science." I can look at our counts at Cornell's site and see that during almost every count period, we say six, eight, or maybe 12 Steller's jays. (Western scrub jays show up too, but in smaller numbers.)

This year we call each other to the window if we see one Steller's jay. Seeing two is astonishing.

A couple of years ago, the West Nile virus hit the corvids hard. Some people contracted the disease as well.

But I thought that the jay population had bounced back. Is there a connection with last summer's Mason Gulch Fire? The fire displaced the wild turkeys--they now forage closer to our and our neighbors' houses, despite the number of dogs hanging around. But jays? Did the fire cause them to disperse to other habitat?

We used to take them and their raucous voices for granted, and now we are missing them.

1 comment:

Steve Bodio said...

As we discussed: if the mast crop was good (which it was) and you don't have a mosquito problem (ruling out WNV, which did a job on Rio Grande Corvids when it first came) my vote is for the fire.