Thursday, January 5, 2017
Blue Jays imitating...Cooper's Hawk?!?
Vocal mimicry is well known in the bird world, but prominent in relatively few taxa- most famously parrots and mynas in the realm of pets, and in members of the family Mimidae (most notably Northern Mockingbird) among our native species.
One additional case of local relevance to birders has always been the penchant of Blue Jays for imitating one particular hawk species, the Red-shouldered Hawk. Jays are quite good at rendering the strident kyah notes made by the hawk, and do so a lot. Because both species are common in our area, birders hear a lot of both the hawk and its impersonator. The jays can be very convincing- usually sounding a little more frail than the real raptor- but I find myself sometimes uncertain of whether I am getting duped.
At any rate, I had never heard a jay imitate another raptor until today. On my way out to my car in the driveway, I heard an apparent Cooper's Hawk in my live oak. Coops make a series of short chants, quite different from a Red-shouldered. The sound appeared to be coming from the exact location in the tree where a Blue Jay was moving about, seemingly unconcerned about any nearby predator. I became suspicious. The jay then moved fifteen feet through the crown of the tree, and the Cooper's Hawk call moved with it.
Another identification complication to add to the list! Bring it.