Visitors to Costa Rica's Gold Coast (Guanacaste and the Central Pacific) are welcomed by birds that have made themselves quite at home. The ubiquitous magpie jay Urraca copetona (its common name in Spanish) or Calocitta formosa is considered a permanent resident on the Pacific Coast and all the way up to Mexico, and is a common sight in sleepy towns dotting the many beaches of this area.
White-Throated Magpie Jay
Magpie jays are very vocal and very social birds, and are usually seen in groups of six to 10 individuals. Normally they inhabit savannas, dry forests, ranches, backyards and empty lots where they are on the lookout for their usual diet of small lizards, caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, cockroaches, frogs, eggs, and even the young of other birds.
They also eat fruit and vegetables, including corn, and the nectar of the balsa tree's (Ochroma pyramidale) big flowers. If you allow them, magpie jays will perch upon almost anything in order to beg for food from your plate and finish up the crumbs on the floor.
Measuring about 20 inches long and weighing up to half a pound, their intense blue-gray feathers on top with white chests, quite long blue tails and curvy blue toupees on the tops of their heads make magpie jays unmistakable. A closely elated species found along the Mexican coast is the black-throated magpie jay.
Magpie jays nest from February to July, perched on a nest made of sticks, roots and fibers at 20 to 50 feet high. The female will lay three to four little gray eggs with brown spots. She also has the job of incubating the eggs, while several males cooperate to collect food to feed the mother and the soon-to-be-born babies.
This beautiful, vociferous bird can be found in Guanacaste National Park, Palo Verde, and Las Baulas, as well as further north in Tamarindo, Sugar Beach, and Nacascolo; to the south as far as Montezuma and Doña Ara close to Puntarenas, and even all the way down to the mouth of the Tárcoles Diver. Besides human development, probably the biggest threat to magpie jays is the white-faced capuchin monkey, their main predator. Though feeding the jays can certainly be tempting, realize that doing so only increases their dependence on humans. Allowing these friendly, outgoing birds to remain wild means they will be here for future generations to enjoy their antics as well.