Western Scrub-JayAphelocoma californica

adult (Interior)
Brian E. Small/VIREO
adult (Pacific)
Garth McElroy/VIREO
juvenile
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult (Pacific)
Brian E. Small/VIREO

Description

In brushy western foothills, pairs of Western Scrub-Jays are often seen swooping across clearings, giving harsh calls, their long tails flopping in flight. Along the Pacific Coast, they are often common around suburban yards or well-wooded city parks. The scrub-jays living in Florida and on Santa Cruz Island, California, are now considered to be two separate species from the widespread form in the west.

Habitat

Foothills, oak-chaparral, river woods, pinyons, junipers, some suburbs. Found in many kinds of brushy country, but typically where scrub oaks are common; in parts of the west, lives in pinyon-juniper woods with few oaks, the pinyon pine seeds perhaps taking the place of acorns in the bird's diet.

Feeding Diet

Omnivorous. Diet varies with season and region. Eats a wide variety of insects, especially in summer, as well as a few spiders and snails. Winter diet may be mostly acorns, pine seeds, and other seeds, nuts, and berries. Also eats some rodents, eggs and young of other birds, and small reptiles and amphibians.

Feeding Behavior

Forages on the ground and in trees, usually in flocks. Often harvests acorns and buries them, perhaps to retrieve them later.

Nesting

Unlike Florida Scrub-Jay and Mexican Jay, this species breeds in isolated pairs, not in cooperative flocks. Nest site is in tree or shrub, usually fairly low, 5-30' above the ground. Nest (built by both sexes) is a well-built, thick-walled cup of twigs, grass, and moss, lined with fine rootlets and sometimes with animal hair. Eggs: 3-6, sometimes 2-7. Usually light green, spotted with olive or brown; sometimes paler gray or green with large reddish-brown spots. Incubation is by female, about 15-17 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Fed by both parents. Young leave nest about 18-19 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.

Eggs

3-6, sometimes 2-7. Usually light green, spotted with olive or brown; sometimes paler gray or green with large reddish-brown spots. Incubation is by female, about 15-17 days. Male feeds female during incubation. Young: Fed by both parents. Young leave nest about 18-19 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.

Young

Fed by both parents. Young leave nest about 18-19 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.

Conservation

Apparently declining in numbers in parts of the southwest, but overall still common and widespread.

Range

Mostly permanent resident. Those in the southwest sometimes stage invasions of the lowlands in fall and winter, probably when wild food crops fail in their usual foothill haunts.

Listen

calls #3
calls #2
rattles
calls #1

Similar Species

adult

Island Scrub-Jay

Larger, darker, and more richly colored than the Western Scrub-Jay is this very localized species. It lives only on Santa Cruz Island, a little over 20 miles long and up to five miles wide in places, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California.

adult

Florida Scrub-Jay

This bird is noteworthy on several counts. It lives nowhere in the world except Florida, it has a complicated social system, it has been the subject of very detailed field studies, and it is threatened by loss of habitat. Formerly considered just a race of the scrub-jays found in the west, it is now classified as a full species.

adult, Western

Mexican Jay

Widespread in Mexico, this bird enters the United States in two areas: in much of southeastern Arizona and adjacent New Mexico, and in the Big Bend area of Texas. These two populations are not closely connected in Mexico, and they differ in a number of ways, including egg color, bill color of the young, voice, and aspects of nesting behavior. The nesting habits in Arizona are surprisingly complicated, various members of the flock being more or less involved with several nesting attempts at once.

adult

Blue Jay

One of the loudest and most colorful birds of eastern back yards and woodlots, the Blue Jay is unmistakable. Intelligent and adaptable, it may feed on almost anything, and it is quick to take advantage of bird feeders. Besides their raucous jay! jay! calls, Blue Jays make a variety of musical sounds, and they can do a remarkable imitation of the scream of a Red-shouldered Hawk. Not always conspicuous, they slip furtively through the trees when tending their own nest or going to rob the nest of another bird.

adult, Pacific NW

Steller's Jay

A common bird of western forests. Steller's Jay is most numerous in dense coniferous woods of the mountains and the northwest coast, where its dark colors blend in well in the shadows. Except when nesting it lives in flocks, and the birds will often fly across a clearing one at a time, in single file, giving their low shook-shook calls as they swoop up to perch in a tall pine.

adult

Green Jay

Unmistakably tropical, the Green Jay enters our area only in southern Texas. There it is common in native woods and mesquite brush. Around some parks and refuges it is very tame, coming to picnic tables for scraps; but at other places it can be elusive, and surprisingly hard to see despite its bright colors. Green Jays live in pairs or social groups at all seasons, communicating with each other with a bizarre variety of different calls.

adult

Pinyon Jay

This odd jay, looking more like a small blue-gray crow, lives mainly in the Great Basin region of the west. Appropriately named, it feeds heavily on the seeds of pinyon pines, and its distribution is tied closely to the range of these trees. Pinyon Jays are sociable at all seasons, traveling in flocks, nesting in colonies. When on the move they fly close together, giving harsh nasal calls.

adult

Clark's Nutcracker

This bird often lives in places remote from human contact, near treeline on windy western peaks. Where it does encounter people, however, it seems fearless, striding about in picnic grounds and scenic-view parking lots, looking for handouts. Nutcrackers are champions at burying pine seeds (sometimes tens of thousands) in hidden caches in fall, then re-finding them during winter; these seed stores allow them to nest in late winter, when the forest is still covered with snow.

adult, Pacific

Gray Jay

A hiker in the north woods sometimes will be followed by a pair of Gray Jays, gliding silently from tree to tree, watching inquisitively. These fluffy jays seem fearless, and they can be a minor nuisance around campsites and cabins, stealing food, earning the nickname "camp robber." Tough enough to survive year-round in very cold climates, they store excess food in bark crevices all summer, retrieving it in harsh weather. Surprisingly, they nest and raise their young in late winter and early spring, not during the brief northern summer.

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