The range of Calocitta formosa extends southward from Mexico through Central America. They are found in Mexico and the Central American countries of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The northernmost extent of their range extends to southern Mexican states including Puebla, Colima, Oaxaca, Michoacán, and Chiapas. White-throated magpie-jays are found along the Pacific Coast of Mexico (rather than the Caribbean coast), as they prefer the drier climates found there. The Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica is home to particularly large populations of white-throated magpie-jays and many studies of this species have been conducted there.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
White-throated magpie-jays are large, brightly colored birds with long tails and crest feathers. Body weight typically ranges from 205 and 213 g and body length from 46 to 56 cm. Sexual dimorphism is evident in tail length, with females having much shorter tails (267 to 314 mm) than males (284 to 334 mm). Most other male and female body measurements are similar. Wingspan typically ranges from 178 mm to 193 mm. Tarsus length ranges from 39 to 46 mm and bill length from 29 to 34 mm.
Adult white-throated magpie-jays have mostly white face and ventral coloration with rich blue dorsal feathers. Both sexes have a black ring that runs across their breast, beginning behind the eye. Males and females can be distiguished by coloration, with a thinner and often incomplete black ring in males. Males also have partially white crests and very little black coloration above the eye. In contrast, females tend to have almost entirely black crests, and much black or black-and-white mottled coloration above the eye. The auricular patch (patch around the internal ear), is black in both sexes, but much more pronounced in females, often blending into the breast ring.
Range mass: 205 to 213 g.
Average length: 50.8 cm.
Range wingspan: 17.8 to 19.3 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently
White-throated magpie-jays primarily inhabit drier habitats, particularly dry forests. They are often found in areas of mixed grassland and woodland. They also live in secondary forested areas, near areas under cultivation and along forest edges (particularly pastures consisting of small strips of forests). In addiction, white-throated magpie-jays are often found near clearings and areas of human dwellings and in or near coffee plantations in Central America. This may be due to decreased chance of predation near human settlements. Preferred habitats are generally flat, but these birds also live in hilly areas. Habitat elevation ranges from sea level to approximately 1128 m above sea level.
Most of the vegetation in the habitats of white-throated magpie-jays consists of thorny shrubs and trees, particularly Acacia trees, which are important for feeding in the drier season, and Acrocomina vinifera and Cresenctia alata trees that they use for nesting. Often they choose a relatively isolated tree in the middle of a clearing or pasture for nesting.
Range elevation: 1,128 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: chaparral ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: agricultural
Habitat and Ecology
White-throated magpie-jays are omnivores, feeding primarily on caterpillars and various small fruits. Other food items include grasshoppers and katydids, small lizards, frogs, nestlings of various small birds, and fruits from Acacia trees. Acacia seeds require particular skill to consume, due to the protection of these trees by ant species. Other food items include various large fruits, arthropod egg masses and pupae, wasp nests, and spiders. Diet varies by season, with adult birds consuming mostly fruit during the wet and late wet season (August-December); mostly caterpillars during the early wet season (May-August), and a mixture of miscellaneous small fruit and acacia fruits during the dry season (January-April).
Animal Foods: birds; amphibians; reptiles; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit
Primary Diet: omnivore
White-throated magpie-jays primary ecosystem role is as seed dispersers. These birds frequently ingest various types of berries, fruits, and seeds.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
White-throated magpie-jays protect themselves against predators through their social behavior, including mobbing behavior and alarm calls. Raptor alarm calls are harsh and may vary in intensity given the threat at hand. Raptor alarm calls cause any white-throated magpie-jay nearby to dive for cover. More moderate alarms are called when a bird approaches or when other predators are observed. These birds may even give alarm calls at the site of a car. They also give a loud alarm when a nest is approached by both humans and natural predators, which doubles as a mobbing call.
- falcons (Falconidae)
- owls (Strigiformes)
- hawks (Accipitridae)
Life History and Behavior
White-throated magpie-jays are very vocal, with several different types of calls. Mobbing calls and predator alarms are similar: both consist of a harsh, noisy call that varies in length and rate, depending on the particular threat. In general, the loudest and most vigorous mobbing calls have been noted when nests are approached. Both chicks and adults beg for food, making loud whining vocalizations to entice feeding. Females incubating a clutch will notably beg for up to several hours, and rarely forage during this time. Other social calls include low "chirring", usually produced during mating attempts and during nest-building.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
White-throated magpie-jays are likely to be relatively long-lived. While information on the lifespan of this particular species was not available, it is not uncommon for other species of corvids to live from 15 to 25 years.
White-throated magpie-jays are cooperative breeders, with family members helping a breeding pair to care for and raise young.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous) ; cooperative breeder
White-throated magpie-jays generally breed from January through April. In small groups, one female breeder is typically responsible for incubating all of the eggs, and rarely leaves the nest during this time. Other females bring food to her throughout the incubation process. Males do not play an active role in reproduction, outside of the initial act of fertilizing the eggs.
Breeding interval: White-throated magpie-jays generally breed once in the first 4 months of the year, however under circumstances in which the first nest is lost or fails the birds will lay more eggs.
Breeding season: Breeding occurs from January through April.
Range eggs per season: 2 to 6.
Average eggs per season: 3-4.
Average fledging age: 23 days.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 8 to 14 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 to 14 months.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Young birds are fed in the nest by their mother and other helper females. Females typically stay within the same natal area as they mature, whereas males generally leave the flock either to join another group or to move from group to group.
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female); post-independence association with parents
White-throated magpie-jays are found throughout a large range and have large population sizes, so they are evaluated as least concern by the IUCN.
US Migratory Bird Act: no special status
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
White-throated magpie-jays have little negative impact on humans.
White-throated magpie-jays seem to have little influence on the human populations around them. White-throated magpie-jays may draw the attention of avid bird watchers, researchers, or tourists and can be seen and studied in Costa Rica's national parks.
Positive Impacts: ecotourism
The white-throated magpie-jay (Calocitta formosa) is a large Central American species of magpie-jay. It ranges in Pacific-slope thorn forest from Jalisco, Mexico to Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Magpie-jays are noisy, gregarious birds, often traveling in easy-to-find flocks, mobbing their observers.
The white-throated magpie-jay hybridizes in Jalisco with the black-throated magpie-jay (C. colliei), with which it forms a superspecies. There are three recognised subspecies, the nominate race, which is only found in southern Mexico; C. f. azurea, which is found in south eastern Mexico and western Guatemala, and C. f. pompata, which runs from south eastern Mexico to Costa Rica.
The white-throated magpie-jay is between 43–56 cm (17–22 in) in length and weighs 205–213 g (7.2–7.5 oz). The species has a particularly long tail and a slightly curved crest of feathers on the head. The crest is black in the nominate race, but has blue or white margins on the other two subspecies. The nominate race has a white face with a black crown and margin to the face, forming a narrow band around the throat, as well as a small drop below the eye. The black is less extensive in the other subspecies. The breast, belly and underside of the rump are white, and the wings, mantle and tail are blue (with whitish margins on the tail). The legs and eye are black, and the bill is grey. The plumage of the females is mostly as that of the male but duller on the top, with a narrower band across the chest, and the tail is shorter.
The white-throated magpie-jay is associated with a wide range of habitats from arid environments to semi-humid woodlands, from sea-level up to 1,250 m (4,100 ft), although only occasionally higher than 800 m (2,600 ft). It occurs rarely in columnar cacti forest, but is common in thorn forest, gallery forest, deciduous woodland, forest edges and cultivated areas like coffee plantations. The species does not undertake any migratory movements, although males disperse away from their natal territories a few years after fledging. It is a common species across its range, and is not considered threatened by human activities.
White-throated magpie-jays are omnivorous, consuming a wide range of animal and plant matter. Items included in the diet include invertebrates such as insects and caterpillars, frogs, lizards, eggs and nestlings of other birds, seeds, fruits, grain, and nectar from Balsa blossoms. Younger birds take several years to acquire the full range of foraging skills of their parents.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Calocitta formosa". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Marzluff, John (2009). "Family Corvidae (Crows)". In del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Christie, David. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. p. 587. ISBN 978-84-96553-50-7.
- Langen, Tom (1996). "Skill acquisition and the timing of natal dispersal in the white-throated magpie-jay, Calocitta formosa". Animal Behaviour 51 (3): 575–588. doi:10.1006/anbe.1996.0061.