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California Scrub-Jay

Aphelocoma californica ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CORVIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The “blue jay” of dry lowlands along the Pacific seaboard, the California Scrub-Jay combines deep azure blue, clean white underparts, and soft gray-brown. It looks very similar to the Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay (they were considered the same species until 2016), but is brighter and more contrasting, with a bold blue breast band. The rounded, crestless head immediately sets it apart from Steller’s Jays. These birds are a fixture of dry shrublands, oak woodlands, and backyards from Washington state south to Baja California.

Keys to identification Help

Crows and Jays
Crows and Jays
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A fairly large songbird with lanky dimensions. The tail is long and floppy; the bird often adopts a hunched-over posture. The bill is straight and stout, with a hook at the tip.

  • Color Pattern

    Rich azure blue and gray above, with a clean, pale underside broken up by a blue necklace. In birds, the color blue depends on lighting, so California Scrub-Jays can also look simply dark.

  • Behavior

    Assertive, vocal, and inquisitive. You’ll often notice scrub-jays silhouetted high in trees, on wires, or on posts where they act as lookouts. In flight seems underpowered and slow, with bouts of fluttering alternating with glides.

  • Habitat

    Look for California Scrub-Jays in open habitats, oak woodlands, and chaparral along the West Coast, as well as in backyards, pastures, and orchards. Typically, though not always, in lower and drier habitats than Steller’s Jay.

Range Map Help

California Scrub-Jay Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    California Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Deep blue head, neck, wings, and tail
    • Brownish gray back
    • White throat
    • Light gray underparts
    • Blue head with white eyebrow
    • Very long, blue tail
    • © Gary Witt, Dawson Creek Park, Hillsboro, Oregon, January 2013
  • Adult

    California Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Deep blue head, neck, wings, and tail
    • Brownish gray back
    • White throat
    • Light gray underparts
    • © Lorcan Keating, California, November 2008
  • Adult

    California Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Deep blue head, neck, wings, and tail
    • Brownish gray back
    • Light gray underparts
    • Blue head with white eyebrow
    • Very long, blue tail
    • © MMATM
  • Adult

    California Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Blue head with white eyebrow
    • Very long, blue tail
    • White throat
    • Blue breastband
    • © Lorcan Keating, San Francisco, California, January 2009
  • Adult

    California Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Blue breastband
    • White eyebrow on blue face
    • Very long, blue tail
    • Light gray underparts
    • © lee.karney2, San Francisco, California, February 2007
  • Juvenile

    California Scrub-Jay

    Juvenile
    • Dark gray head and upperparts
    • Blue wings and tail
    • Often shows pink around gape
    • © Lorcan Keating, California, August 2008
  • Juvenile

    California Scrub-Jay

    Juvenile
    • Dark gray head and upperparts
    • Blue wings and tail
    • Often shows pink around gape
    • Acquires blue head and body feathers in late summer
    • © Lorcan Keating, California, August 2008
  • Adult

    California Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Streaked white throat
    • Blue breastband
    • Blue head with darker face and white eyebrow
    • © Lorcan Keating, San Francisco, California, February 2008
  • Adult

    California Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Deep blue head, neck
    • Blue head with white eyebrow
    • White throat
    • Blue breastband
    • © spicysquid1, Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arcadia, California, November 2015

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Less intense blue
    • Grayer underparts
    • Indistinct blue breast band
    • © mmeastman, Davis Mountains, Texas, October 2014
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Slimmer, pointed bill
    • Less intense blue
    • Grayer underparts
    • © Robinsegg, Salt Lake City, Utah, February 2010
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Slimmer, pointed bill
    • Less intense blue
    • © Carey Manous, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 2015
  • Adult

    Florida Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • Similar to all plumages of Western Scrub-Jay
    • Ranges do not overlap (found only in Florida)
    • Pale gray back
    • Blue undertail
    • Whitish forehead and eyebrow
    • © Marcus Sharpe, Lake Co, Florida, January 2009
  • Adult

    Pinyon Jay

    Adult
    • Unmarked/plainer blue overall
    • Shorter tail (almost crow-shaped)
    • Stockier
    • © David F. Smith
  • Adult

    Mexican Jay

    Adult
    • All-blue back
    • Lacks the scrub-jay's necklace
    • © Sam Wilson, Sierra Vista, Arizona, May 2008
  • Adult

    Blue Jay

    Adult
    • Similar to all plumages of California Scrub-Jay
    • Distinctive blue crest
    • Blue back, bold white wing and tail markings
    • Gray and black patterned face
    • © Gary Mueller, December 2008
  • Adult male

    Western Bluebird

    Adult male
    • Bright blue head and throat, back, and wings
    • Chestnut red breast, sides, and parts of back
    • Blue or whitish belly
    • Short tail
    • © Jamie Chavez, Santa Maria, California, February 2009
  • Adult

    Steller's Jay

    Adult
    • Similar to all plumages of Western Scrub-Jay
    • Dark blackish head, breast and back
    • Dark blue belly, wings, and tail
    • Dark crest
    • © Bob Scott, British Columbia, Canada, August 2008

Similar Species

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay overlaps with California Scrub-Jay only in a limited part of eastern California and western Nevada. Woodhouse's is more slender overall, with a slimmer, pointed bill; it's also a less intense blue, has grayer underparts, and has only an indistinct blue breast band. Pinyon Jay is the only other large blue bird without a crest that you're likely to see in the western United States. Pinyon Jays are stockier, shorter-tailed (almost crow-shaped) and plainer blue overall. If you live in Central Florida and think you've seen this species, you've seen the very similar but much less numerous Florida Scrub-Jay. (Another species, Island Scrub-Jay, lives only on Santa Cruz Island, off southern California.) If your blue bird has a black crest, it's a Steller's Jay; if the crest is blue you have a Blue Jay. Western Bluebirds and Lazuli Buntings are also blue, but are much smaller, with shorter legs, bill, and tail.

Backyard Tips

California Scrub-Jays are fond of sunflower seeds and peanuts at feeders. If you have dense shrubs or small trees in your yard, a pair might build a nest. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

Look for this bird in oak woodlands, suburbs, parks, and along roadsides at low elevations, or flying overhead on rounded, fluttering wings. Listen for the raspy scolds and weep calls these birds use to communicate.

Get Involved

California Scrub-Jay is a focal species for Project NestWatch. Join and contribute your observations!

The "Western" Scrub-Jay" (including California and Woodhouse's) is one of the top 25 feeder birds for California and the Southwest, according to Project FeederWatch. Report your counts of jays and other birds at your feeders this winter.

You Might Also Like

Explore sounds and video of California Scrub-Jays from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library archive

Downloadable "Common Feeder Birds" poster from Project FeederWatch (PDF)

Naturalist’s Notebook: The Secret Knowledge Of Western Scrub-Jays, Living Bird, Summer 2008.

Scrubland Survivors: The Precarious Existence of the Florida Scrub-Jay, Living Bird, Autumn 2008.

Naturalist’s Notebook: Two Forms Of The Western Scrub-Jay, Living Bird, Autumn 2009.

Where Is That Bird Going With That Seed? It’s Caching Food For Later, All About Birds, April 13, 2016.

Farewell Western Scrub-Jay!, Project FeederWatch, September 8, 2016.

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