When most Americans think of corvids, the color palette that probably comes to mind is black, grey, blue, white and iridescent. Together, these colors have certainly assembled a handsome collection of birds, but there’s an awful lot more pigments in the corvid family than that. Even among those colors, some of the more topical corvids exploit them in dazzling ways. Unlike American or New Caledonian crows though, these birds have not gotten their fair share of the corvid limelight and it’s time we change that. The following is a sample of just some of the corvid diversity more folks should know about. If you really want to have a little extra fun, ignore the scientific names and see if there are any birds you would group together in the same genus (reminder: Family>Genus>Species). Then you can go back and look at the first part of the scientific name to see if you were right!
These photos were primarily sourced from some of the generous and talented photographers that can be found on Flickr. Please click on their names to see more of their great work.
1. Common green magpie (Cissa chinensis). Found in parts of India, China and Indonesia. A flocking corvid often found low in the canopy where they can be very difficult to spot among the vegetation. According to the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) their populations are considers stable and of least concern.2. Taiwan Magpie (Urocissa caerulea). Endemic to Taiwan, these are flocking corvids that feed mostly from tree canopies. Their populations are stable. 3. Lidth’s jay (Garrulus lidthi). The only jay endemic to Japanese islands of Amami-oshima and Tokunoshima. In the fall they can gather in groups as large as 100 birds where they feed mainly on acorns. Habitat loss and predation have this bird listed as declining and vulnerable. 4. Unicolor jay (Aphelocoma unicolor). Ranges intermittently from western Mexico to El Salvador and may have as many as 5 subspecies! They are considered of least concern, though populations are declining. 5. Green jay (Cyanocorax yncas) can be found from southern Texas throughout central America and as far south as Peru. Although they are a solitary breeder, they are very social in the non-breeding season. Populations are increasing they are considered of least concern. 6. Spotted nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes). Native across Europe and Asia, theses birds are monogamous and generally hang out only with their mate. Like the unicolor jay they are considered of least concern but trends point towards decline. 7. Ceylon magpie (Urocissa ornata). Another Sri Lankan endemic. These birds can be seen in pairs or small flocks where they noisy work the tree canopy. They are considered vulnerable and declining. 8. Black-throated magpie jay (Calocitta colliei). This bird is limited to northwest Mexico where it can be found in open woodlands chatting loudly and waiving their tails. They are common and populations are stable. 9. Turquoise jay (Cyanolyca turcosa). Can be found in the humid forests of Ecuador, north Peru, and south Columbia. Overall this species is poorly documented. Right now it is considered a least concern species but it’s possible that’s due to lack of data. 10. Rufous treepie (Dendrocitta vagabunda). Found across India and southeast Asia. These birds are generally wary of people but have been known to enter houses to look for geckos. Would love to find one in my house! Populations are stable and they are considered least concern. 11. Gold-billed magpie (Urocissa flavirostris). Endemic to Taiwan, these birds keep their tails erect when on the ground, possibly to prevent the feathers from being damaged. Populations are stable and they are considered of least concern. 12. Bornean green magpie (Cissa jefferyi). Found only in Indonesia and Malaysia, these birds look (and act) similarly to the common green magpie. Relatively little is known about this species as they are hard to access high in the mountain forests. It’s listed as of least concern.
13. Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) Found throughout Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. This bird is common to most birders outside of North and South America. Although these birds remain with their mates for extended periods they do not keep much contact throughout most of the year. Eurasian jays are in no danger of global population decline.14. Azure-winged magpie (Cyanopica cyana). Native across Asia and as far north as Mongolia and southern Siberia*. They form small family parties during the breeding season but amass into large groups during the nonbreeding season. Populations are increasing and they are of least concern. 15. Finally we have, literally, the beautiful jay (Cyanolyca pulchra). Found only in the Andes of Columbia and north Ecuador. They can be found alone or in pairs but are not believed to interact in large social groups. Little known about reproduction, social behavior or predators. Populations are declining and near threatened. Did you pick out a favorite bird? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to dedicate a post to it!
*A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the Azure-winged magpie spread as far west as Spain and Portugal. Although this was true at the time the reference guide used to write the post was written, since 2002 these western birds have been splint into their own species called the Iberian magpie1.
1Fok KW, Wade CM, Parkin DT (2002). “Inferring the phylogeny of disjunct populations of the azure-winged magpie Cyanopica cyanus from mitochondrial control region sequences.”. Proc. Roy. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 269 (1501): 1671–1678.doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.2057.
All other species descriptions were based on: Madge, S. and Burn, H. 1999. Crows and jays. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 1999.