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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.

Keys to identification Help

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

    A fairly large, lanky songbird with long, floppy tail and an often hunched-over posture. The bill is fairly long and straight, with a pointed tip.

  • Color Pattern

    Light blue and gray above, with a whitish throat and grayish belly separated by an indistinct, partial breast band of blue. In birds, the color blue depends on lighting, so Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays can 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 Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays in open habitats and pinyon-juniper woodlands of the intermountain West; also backyards and pastures. Typically, though not always, in lower and drier habitats than Steller’s Jay.

Range Map Help

Woodhouse
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • © mmeastman, Davis Mountains, Texas, October 2014
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • © Robinsegg, Salt Lake City, Utah, February 2010
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • © Carey Manous, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 2015
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • © Jason P. Odell, Colorado
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
  • Adult

    Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

    Adult
    • © Robinsegg, Red Butte Gardens, Salt Lake City, Utah, December 2009

Similar Species

Similar Species

California Scrub-Jay overlaps with Woodhouse's only in a limited part of eastern California and western Nevada. California is a deeper, richer blue with brighter gray-white underparts and a much more distinct blue necklace. Pinyon Jay is the only other large blue bird without a crest that you're likely to see in most of 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, the Island Scrub-Jay, lives only on Santa Cruz Island, 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. The Mexican Jay of far southern Arizona and New Mexico has an all-blue back and lacks the scrub-jay's necklace.

Regional Differences

A subgroup of Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay occurs in southern mainland Mexico and is sometimes called "Sumichrast's" scrub-jay. Compared with the Woodhouse's in the U.S., these show more contrast between blue upperparts and white underparts, and have a less distinct blue necklace. On the Edwards Plateau of Texas, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jays are darker blue with a narrower necklace, browner underparts, and a heavier, less pointed bill.

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

Scrubland Survivors: The precarious existence of the Florida Scrub-Jay

Naturalist’s Notebook: The Secret Knowledge Of Western Scrub-Jays

Naturalist’s Notebook: Two Forms Of The Western Scrub-Jay

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

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