Magpie: Our Black and White Jay

The Black-Billed Magpie is an extreme bird. People either love ‘um or hate ‘um. They probably have more detractors than supporters. However, I am one who likes this beautiful bird. Their satiny black and white feathers and long tails are most attractive. Seen in the right light, their feathers shine with an iridescence. People from the east who haven’t experienced this species are usually very impressed – much as westerners are with Blue Jays when visiting eastern states.

Like all jays, this bird is very raucous. When they are near, you can hear them “jabbering away” to each other. This intelligent species would have to be considered the valedictorian of the bird world. Very alert to their surroundings and very hard to approach, they have been known to do clever things – like the one that dropped nuts at a stop light. The nuts would be cracked when the traffic ran over them. The bird would then fly in to get the results when the light changed.

They are a year-round bird and very adaptable. As generalists, their diet covers a wide range from fruits, grains, worms, slugs, and insects to small animals like snakes and mice. They also do much scavenging and are often seen on highways taking advantage of the “road-kill”. Magpies are early nesters and build roofed, dome shaped nests of sticks that protect the eggs from the early spring weather. The same nest is used each year. Five to nine eggs are laid and are incubated for 16 to 18 days. When fledging, the young have short tails which elongate as they mature. By early nesting, they are gone from the tree when other species arrive.

We have other jays in Cassia County: the Scrub Jay which is blue and gray, the Pinyon Jay which is all blue, Clark’s Nutcracker which is gray, black, and white, the American Crow, and the Common Raven. All are raucous, opportunistic, smart, and adaptable. The Black-billed has a cousin – the Yellow-billed which is slightly smaller and found in central California. Magpie behavior is always interesting. I’ve watched them “mob” hawks and owls, sneak food away from larger animals, and even perch on the rumps of deer – getting great pleasure out of annoying their hosts.

Seal or Sea Lion

by Dave Hanks

The seal acts in circus performances are not done by true seals at all. They are done by sea lions. Sea lions have an extra joint in their forelimbs which allows them to sit up and walk on all fours. True seals can’t do that and so are unable to do the required tricks.

Sea lions are pinnipeds and closely related to fur seals. Both have external ears flaps. Sea lions can swim up to 25 mph and are quite fast on land. Sea lions make a roaring noise (hence their name) and will bark and honk. Their range extends from the sub-arctic to tropical waters in both the northern and southern hemispheres of the Pacific Ocean.

The California Sea Lion lives in the cool waters off the coast of western North America. This species has short, thick, brown to buff-colored fur over a thick layer of blubber. Males (bulls) have a thick furry mane around their neck and are darker and much larger than the females – 850 pounds to 250 pounds. It is an intelligent and social mammal that will congregate in large groups on land (colonies or rookeries) and in smaller groups at sea (rafts). Though, they are color blind, they have keen eye sight and a good sense of hearing. Whiskers aid in their sense of touch.

Seals and Sea Lions are carnivores that feed on fish, squid, crabs, clams, and lobsters. They can crush shells with their back teeth, but they don’t chew their food. They swallow large chunks of it whole.This predator is also preyed upon by Orcas (killer whales) and sharks.

When you find yourself along the west coast, you will hear lots of noise emanating from piers or platforms that extend out into the bays. On investigation you will find groups of pinnipeds tightly ensconced together in the space available.

Sea Lions piled on top of one another. Pinnipeds: The Epitome of Sociability

Pinnipeds: The Epitome of Sociability

The Coyote: Nature’s Trickster

This is one of nature’s most cunning and most adaptable creatures. While other species have decreased, since the coming of white man, the Coyote has increased. They are so adaptable that they can actually be found in some cities. There are many Indian legends about them and about their tricky ways. Their scientific name (Canis latrans) means “barking dog”.

This intelligent carnivore has a wide range of vocalizations from barks to yelps, which are most heard at dusk, nighttime, or in the early morning. These calls help keep the group together. The tail is also used as body language. Different positions mean different things and a horizontal, bristled tail is a signal of aggression. Coyotes can be told from wolves by their smaller size, and when running they hold their tail down. Their tracks are also different than dogs – their front paw tracks are larger than their hind paw tracks.

They form loose family groups and will pair for several years or even for life. The den is either a burrow or in a rock crevice and its mouth can be from 5 to 30 feet wide. Mating takes place in February to April and after a 60 day gestation, 1 to 19 pups are born. As tremendous reproducers, it’s no wonder that they are so adaptable. The young leave their parents at 7 to 8 months.

Coyotes are opportunistic and will eat almost any flesh, including carrion. Usually solitary hunters, they will occasionally use others to run relays to tire the prey out or to lay in ambush. Other animals, such as Badgers, may unwittingly become victims, as the Coyote often steals their kill from them.

This canine can run up to 30 miles per hour and is a strong swimmer.

(Resting in the snow and allowing my wife a photograph)