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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.

Songs

Both males and females sing a soft medley of sweet notes that can last up to 5 minutes. Scrub-jays typically do this only during courtship and when the pair is close together.

Calls

  • Calls
     
  • Juvenile calls
     
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  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

California Scrub-Jays, like other jays, are extremely vocal. Behaviorists have described more than 20 separate types of calls for this and the closely related Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay. Examples include a weep uttered during flight, while carrying nesting material, or while taking cover from a flying predator; a bell-like shlenk used antagonistically, a quiet kuk exchanged between mates, and loud, rasping scolds for mobbing predators.

Other Sounds

Scrub-jays often clack their bill mandibles together to make a sharp rapping. Their wings make a whooshing sound on takeoff, and they exaggerated this during altercations.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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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