The Status and Occurrence of Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) in British Columbia
By Rick Toochin.
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The Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica is found from the western United States to southern Mexico (Curry et al. 2002). The subspecies that has turned up in British Columbia is (A. c. californica) and is resident in southwestern Washington State, south through parts of coastal and central Oregon, to southwestern California, extreme west-central Nevada, and south to southern Baja California (Curry et al. 2002). In Washington State, the Western Scrub-Jay has been slowly expanding its range northward since the 1990s with records spilling into the Lower Mainland and south-western corner of British Columbia (Campbell et al. 1997, Wahl et al. 2005). The number of Western Scrub-Jay records in British Columbia has dramatically increased each year since 1993. This species is currently a species of casual occurrence but its status is rapidly changing and it may become a rare regular resident species in the Lower Mainland region from Vancouver to Chilliwack (Toochin et al. 2014, see Table 1.). Western Scrub-Jays have recently been found nesting in Maple Ridge (summer of 2014, P. Levesque pers. comm.). This represents the first confirmed nest record for Canada (P. Levesque pers. comm.). The Western Scrub-Jay has occurred in eastern Washington State and has been reported in the South Okanagan and in the East Kootenay of British Columbia (Toochin et al. 2014, see Table 1.).
The interior subspecies of Western Scrub-Jay (A.c. woodhouseii) is resident from southeastern California, throughout Nevada, southern Idaho, southeastern Wyoming, into Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas and central Mexico. Vagrant birds have turned up in northern Wyoming, central Kansas, Illinois, west-central Indiana and Manitoba (Curry et al. 2002).
Occurrence and Documentation
The Western Scrub-Jay has slowly been expanding its range north in Washington State for the past 20 – 30 years (Wahl et al. 2005). Since 1993, the number of records in British Columbia has increased exponentially. Records occur almost every year and in most years there are multiple occurrences (Toochin et al. 2014, see Table 1). In British Columbia, there are now 36 provincial records with 30 from the Lower Mainland and the South Okanagan with 3, Squamish with 1 and the Sunshine Coast with 1 record (Toochin et al. 2014, see Table 1). All of these coastal records involve Western Scrub-Jays of the coastal subspecies Birds reported from the South Okanagan have also been put into this group based on the descriptions provided by the observers. The only Western Scrub-Jay of the interior subspecies recorded in the Province of a bird well described by Martin Calver at the snow ridges between 5 mile and Ketutl Basins in the East Kootenays on June 15, 2003 (Toochin et al. 2014, see Table 1). This is the furthest east that Western Scrub-Jay has been reported in British Columbia and likely came from the southern Idaho region where the Western Scrub-Jays are of the interior subspecies. The Western Scrub-Jay was recently found nesting in the summer of 2014 in the Maple Ridge area representing a new breeding species for both British Columbia and Canada (P. Levesque pers. comm.) The adult birds were feeding 2 fledglings and were well photographed and confirmed by many observers (J. Fenneman pers. comm.). It is highly likely that more Western Scrub-Jays will be found breeding in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia given the dramatic increase in observations, reports with multiple birds present, the frequency of occurrence during late spring and early summer, and the fact that some individuals have remained for several seasons. The Western Scrub-Jay, like other jays, readily comes to bird feeders. The area of the Lower Mainland is perfect for them as this species likes open suburban areas, such as city parks or areas with open gardens (Curry et al. 2002). This species can occur in any month of the year in the Lower Mainland and turn up in any city park or backyard, especially where there is a bird feeder. Observers should always be on the lookout for Western Scrub-Jays throughout the southwestern corner of the Province in the future as they are likely to increase in numbers and are slowly becoming part of the natural avifauna of southwestern British Columbia.