At a Glance
Until recently, this jay of the Interior West was considered part of the same species as the California Scrub-Jay; the two were officially "split" in July 2016. Unlike its California cousin, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay is mostly an uncommon bird, living in sparse woodlands of juniper and pinyon pine in arid foothills, but it does come into suburbs of some western cities. Its name honors Samuel W. Woodhouse, a doctor and naturalist who accompanied expeditions to the Southwest between 1849 and 1852 and wrote about his experiences.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Crows, Magpies, Jays, Perching Birds
Desert and Arid Habitats, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Mostly a permanent resident. May disperse some distance in winter, especially in dry years when the oaks produce poor acorn crops.
11 1/2" (29 cm). Slim and moderately long-tailed. Dull blue on head, wings, and tail, grayer on center of back. Underparts mostly light gray, with the slightly paler throat set off by a hint of a blue chest band. Formerly treated as part of same species as California Scrub-Jay, which is brighter blue with a more contrasting throat. Mexican Jay looks heavier bodied, plainer gray below, and has different voice.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Blue, Brown, Gray, White
Long, Rounded, Wedge-shaped
Songs and Calls
Call is loud, throaty jayy? or jree? In flight, a long series of check-check-check notes.
Buzz, Rattle, Raucous, Trill
Arid woodlands of juniper and pinyon pine, plus pine-oak woodlands and oak scrub in foothills. Also found in some suburban areas and parks. In winter, may disperse to lowland riverside woods.
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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.
Fed by both parents. Young leave the nest about 18-22 days after hatching, but are tended and fed by the adults for at least another month. Typically one brood per year, occasionally two.
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.
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.
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.
Still widespread and fairly common, but has shown recent declines in some parts of range.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.