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Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

Aphelocoma woodhouseii ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CORVIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The “blue jay” of dry lowlands from Nevada south to Mexico, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay is a dusty blue bird set off by gray-brown and white. It looks very similar to the California Scrub-Jay (they were considered the same species until 2016), but it's a dimmer blue and dingier gray, with almost no necklace, a straighter bill, and higher-pitched calls. The bird's rounded, crestless head immediately sets it apart from Blue Jays and Steller’s Jays. These birds are a fixture of dry shrublands and woodlands of pinyon pine and juniper.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
11–11.8 in
28–30 cm
Wingspan
15.4 in
39 cm
Weight
2.5–3.5 oz
70–100 g
Relative Size
Larger and bulkier than a Western Bluebird; smaller than an American Crow.
Other Names
  • California Jay (English)
  • Geai buissonier (French)
  • Urraca azuleja, Chara azuleja, Chara pecho rayando (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Scrub-jays of the West evolved in two very different habitats: oak woodlands and montane pinyon pine stands. Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays live mainly among pinyon pine trees. They developed relatively thin, pointed bills that are adept at getting at the pine nuts hidden between pine cone scales. California Scrub-Jays live around oak trees and have developed stouter, more hooked bills that help them hammer open acorns.
  • Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays have a mischievous streak, and they’re not above outright theft. They’ve been caught stealing acorns seeds and pine cones from Clark’s Nutcrackers.
  • You might see Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays standing on the back of a mule deer. They’re picking off and 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.

Habitat


Scrub

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays live primarily in pinyon-juniper and oak-pinyon forests of the interior western United States. Less often, you may find them in stands of mountain mahogany, juniper stands, among trees and cactus along desert streams, or in the oak scrublands of Texas's Edwards Plateau. In Mexico they also live in palmetto and thorn scrub in Oaxaca and in pine-spruce forests at high elevations in the Sierra San Pedro Mártir. They also live around people and may appear in suburbs, golf courses, and parks.

Food


Omnivore

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays eat mostly insects and fruit during spring and summer, and switch to nuts and seeds during fall and winter. They eat small animals such as lizards and nestling birds, sometimes finding nests by following the parent birds. For plant material, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays eat pine nuts, juniper berries, and grass seeds; sunflower seeds and peanuts at feeders; as well as cultivated corn, almonds, walnuts, and cherries. The birds aren't able to break pine cones before they open, but their relatively thin, straight, pointed bill helps them reach in and extract the rich pine nuts as soon as a gap opens.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–5 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
0.9–1.3 in
2.4–3.4 cm
Egg Width
0.7–0.8 in
1.9–2 cm
Incubation Period
17–19 days
Nestling Period
17–19 days
Egg Description
Pale green blotched with olive, or pale gray spotted with brown.
Condition at Hatching
Naked and helpless, eyes closed.
Nest Description

Scrub-jay nests are made of a basket of twigs lined with rootlets, fine strands of plant fibers, and livestock hair. Nests take about 12 days to build and are about 6 inches (15 centimeters) across when finished. Both members of a pair help with building.

Nest Placement

Tree

Either male or female may choose the nest site. Typically fairly low (6-14 feet high) in a pinyon pine, serviceberry, or other small tree. Nests are often well hidden amid foliage and vines.

Behavior


Ground Forager

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays are animated birds that move about in bold hops and lunges, looking around with sharp turns of the head. Often found in flocks during winter, these birds are vocal and playful. Both members of a breeding pair staunchly defend their territory year-round, keeping other scrub-jays away by flying at them, calling, and occasionally pecking or grappling. Pairs stay together throughout the year and often feed each other, particularly during the breeding season. The female does all the incubation. In Oaxaca, Mexico, the subspecies known as "Sumichrast's" scrub-jay breeds cooperatively, with previously fledged birds remaining on their parents' territory and helping raise additional broods (similar to the Florida Scrub-Jay). During the nonbreeding season, flocks of birds that lack territories of their own (known as "floaters") form and may move away from breeding habitats. Nest predators include raccoons, weasels, skunks, squirrels, king snakes, gopher snakes, rattlesnakes, magpies, crows, and jays. Predators of adults and fledglings include bobcats, house cats, accipiters, and Great Horned Owls.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays are common but populations in some regions show declines, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey (notably in New Mexico, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the Sierra Madre of Mexico). Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population for the "Western" Scrub-Jay (including Woodhouse's and California) at 2 million with 75% occurring in the U.S., 25% in Mexico, and less than 1% in Canada. "Western Scrub-Jay" is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species, and rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. The species is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List.

Credits

Range Map Help

Woodhouse
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident

Backyard Tips

Woodhouse's 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 pinyon pine habitats, as well as in suburbs, parks, and along roadsides at relatively low elevations, or flying overhead on rounded, fluttering wings. Listen for the raspy scolds and weep calls these birds use to communicate.

Get Involved

Woodhouse's 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

Downloadable Common Feeder Birds poster from Project FeederWatch (PDF)

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

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

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