Living Bird Magazine
California Scrub-JayAphelocoma californica
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Corvidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Chara californiana (Spanish)
- Geai buissonnier (French)
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.
- Cool Facts
- Look closely, and you'll see an intriguing difference between the California Scrub-Jay and its close relative, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay. The bill of a California Scrub-Jay is stout and hooked, giving it extra power and grip as the birds hammer open acorns in their oak woodland habitats. By comparison, Woodhouse's have thinner, more pointed bills that nimbly reach deep into pinyon pine cones to pull out the pine nuts inside.
- The calls made by California and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays are a hallmark sound of the open West. Some 20 call types are known, and one of the most memorable descriptions comes from naturalist W. L. Dawson in 1923: “No masquerader at Mardi Gras has sprung such a cacophonic device upon a quiveringly expectant public. Dzweep, dzweep: it curdles the blood, as it is meant to do.”
- You might see California Scrub-Jays standing on the back of a mule deer. They’re eating ticks and other parasites. The deer seem to appreciate the help, often standing still and holding up their ears to give the jays access.
- The oldest known California Scrub-Jay lived to be at least 15 years, 9 months old. It was banded in California in 1932 and found in 1948 in the same state.
- California Scrub-Jays—like many members of the crow and jay family—have a mischievous streak. They’ve been caught stealing acorns from Acorn Woodpecker caches, and some even steal acorns they’ve watched other jays hide. When these birds go to hide their own acorns, they check first that no other jays are watching.