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Western Scrub-Jay

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Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub-Jay

Melissa Mayntz

Common Name:

Western scrub-jay

Scientific Name:

Aphelocoma californica

Appearance:

  • Bill: Long and jutting straight forward, black color
  • Size: 11-12 inches long with 15-inch wingspan, very long tail
  • Colors: Bright blue, white and gray
  • Markings: Head, nape of neck and tail are blue, white throat and chest with blue band, white abdomen with gray streaks, thin white streak above dark eye, gray back, dark legs. Male and female birds look alike.

Foods:

Whole peanuts (shelled or in-the-shell), sunflower seeds, acorns, insects, small lizards, fruit

Habitat and Migration:

Western scrub-jays are common through the American West, from the California coast through Oregon, southern Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Texas, mostly in lowland areas with oak and pinyon pine trees. The birds easily adapt to urban and suburban areas and are popular visitors to backyard feeders. Western scrub-jays do not migrate.

Vocalizations:

Like all jays, western scrub-jays are very vocal birds. Their most familiar call is a loud, harsh “sheeeeek” that may sound scratchy and is used when the birds are aggressive. The faster the calls, the more aggressive the bird. Softer “murps” or “clicks” are also used but are less aggressive.

Behavior:

Adult and juvenile birds are aggressive when feeding and will call harshly or dive intruders if their territory is threatened, but they are not aggressive toward smaller birds and can feed simultaneously with them.

Western scrub-jays cache seeds and nuts by burying them beneath leaves, grass or mulch. Competing birds may steal from one another’s caches, removing a nut to bury it elsewhere. The birds will retrieve cached food when supplies are scarce, but because they store more food than necessary they help reseed forests in many regions.

Backyard jays can become tame and may be hand fed by patient birders.

Reproduction:

Male and female birds form a long-term bond and work together to build a cup-shaped nest and raise one brood of two to six nestlings per year. Eggs must be incubated for 15-17 days and the fledgling bird stage lasts from 18-20 days while both parents feed the young birds. Family groups will remain together for a year or two after the nestlings have matured.

Attracting Western Scrub Jays:

Jays are easy to attract to the backyard with the proper food. Supply whole peanuts and sunflower seeds in a visible location or special nut feeder. Western scrub-jays also prefer open areas to watch for predators and competing birds, so plantings with good visibility can help attract these colorful birds. Trees such as pinyon pine and Gambel’s oak will supply seeds and nuts for western scrub-jays.

Similar Birds:

  • Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
  • Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
  • Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma ultramarina)
  • Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)
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