California Scrub-Jay. Photo: Gil Eckrich/Audubon Photography Awards

California Scrub-Jay

Aphelocoma californica

This is the “blue jay” of parks, neighborhoods, and riverside woods near the Pacific Coast. Pairs of California Scrub-Jays are often seen swooping across clearings, giving harsh calls, with their long tails flopping in flight. They readily come to backyard bird feeders. Until recently, this jay was considered part of the same species as the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay; the two were officially “split” in July 2016.
Conservation status Healthy population overall, and increasing in recent years in northern part of range.
Family Crows, Magpies, Jays
Habitat Oak woodland, oak scrub, riverside woods, and foothill forests of pinyon pine. Often very common in well-wooded suburbs and parks.
This is the “blue jay” of parks, neighborhoods, and riverside woods near the Pacific Coast. Pairs of California Scrub-Jays are often seen swooping across clearings, giving harsh calls, with their long tails flopping in flight. They readily come to backyard bird feeders. Until recently, this jay was considered part of the same species as the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay; the two were officially “split” in July 2016.
Photo Gallery
  • adult (Pacific)
  • adult (Pacific)
Feeding Behavior

Forages on the ground and in trees, singly or in family units during breeding season, sometimes in flocks at other seasons. Often harvests acorns and buries them, perhaps to retrieve them later.


Eggs

3-5, 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 17-18 days. Male sometimes feeds female during incubation.


Young

Fed by both parents. Young leave the nest about 18-22 days after hatching, but are tended to and fed by the adults for at least another month. Typically one brood per year, occasionally two.

Diet

Omnivorous. Diet varies with season. Eats a wide variety of insects, especially in summer, as well as a few spiders and snails. Moth caterpillars make up a major percentage of the items fed to the young. Winter diet may be mostly acorns and other seeds, nuts, and berries. Also eats some rodents, eggs and young of other birds, and small reptiles and amphibians.


Nesting

Unlike the Florida Scrub-Jay and Mexican Jay, this species breeds in isolated pairs, not cooperative flocks. Pairs typically stay together all year on their permanent territory. Nest site is in a shrub or tree, usually fairly low, 5-15’ above the ground, but sometimes higher. Nest (built by both sexes) is a well-built, thick-walled cup of twigs and grass, lined with rootlets and sometimes with animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Mostly a permanent resident. May disperse some distance in winter, especially in dry years when the oaks produce poor acorn crops.

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Migration

Mostly a permanent resident. May disperse some distance in winter, especially in dry years when the oaks produce poor acorn crops.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Call is loud, throaty jayy? or jree? In flight, a long series of check-check-check notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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