Western Scrub Jay

Aphelocoma californica

A bold and familiar jay of the American West, the Western Scrub-Jay is common throughout much of the western lowlands, especially in areas with oaks and pinyon pines. It has adapted well to suburbs and comes readily to bird feeders.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The Western Scrub-Jay feeds on parasites on the body of mule deer, hopping over the body and head of the deer to get them. The deer often help the jays by standing still and holding their ears up.
  • Western Scrub-Jays in areas where acorns are abundant have deep, stout, slightly hooked bills. Those in areas with lots of pinyon pine have long, shallow, pointed bills. The shape of the bill helps the jays open their preferred foods: a stout bill is good for hammering open acorns and the hook helps rip off the shell; a thinner, more pointed bill can get in between pine cone scales to get at the pine seeds.
  • The species formerly known as "Scrub Jay" has been broken into three separate species: The Florida Scrub-Jay, the Island Scrub-Jay, and the Western Scrub-Jay. The Western Scrub-Jay can be divided into three forms, each of which may or may not be a separate species. The California Scrub-Jay of the Pacific coast has contrasting dark blue-and-white plumage, with a prominent blue necklace on a streaked white throat. The Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay of the Great Basin and eastward is duller and less well-marked, with little or no necklace. Sumichrast's Scrub-Jay of central Mexico has whiter underparts and little or no necklace.
  • The Western Scrub-Jay has been used in laboratory studies of its ability to hide (cache) and remember seeds. Jays that had stolen the caches of other jays noticed if other jays were watching them hide food. If they had been observed, they would dig up and hide their food again. Jays that had never stolen food did not pay any attention to whether other jays were watching them hide their food.


  • Size: 28-30 cm (11-12 in)
  • Wingspan: 39 cm (15 in)
  • Weight: 70-100 g (2.47-3.53 ounces)
  • Large songbird.
  • Blue head, wings, and tail.
  • Gray-brown back.
  • Grayish underparts.
  • Whitish throat with blue necklace.
  • Thin white eyebrow.
  • Tail long.
  • Bill dark.
  • Eye dark.
  • Legs dark.
Sex Differences
Sexes look alike.
Juvenile with head entirely dull brown, blending into brown of back. Rest of body like adult.
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Corvidae
Genus: Aphelocoma
Species: Aphelocoma californica
Calls harsh and scratchy.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 28 cm (11 in)
  • Weight: 79 g (2.8 oz)
  • Size: 3. Medium (9 - 16 in)
  • Color Primary: Blue, Gray
  • Underparts: White with gray wash.
  • Upperparts: Gray-brown back with blue wings.
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Striped or streaked, Solid
  • Bill Shape: All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Dark brown.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Plain, Streaked, Eyering
  • Crown Color: Blue
  • Forehead Color: Blue
  • Nape Color: Blue
  • Throat Color: White, sometimes with blue or gray.
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Steady buoyant wing beats.
  • Wingspan Range: 41 cm (16 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Blue
  • Under Tail: Blue-gray
  • Leg Color: Black
  • Breeding Location: Forest edge, Bushes, shrubs, and thickets, Mountains, Scrub vegetation areas
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Fairly common to common
  • Egg Color: Green or gray with brown, red brown or olive spots
  • Number of Eggs: 3 - 7
  • Incubation Days: 15 - 15
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Twigs, grass, and moss, lined with finer rootlets and animal hair.
  • Migration: Nonmigratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Naked and helpless.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Geai buissonier (French)
  • Urraca azuleja, Chara azuleja, Chara pecho rayando (Spanish)
  • Scrub Jay, California Jay (English)
  • Steller's Jay has crest, blue underparts, and black face.
  • Mexican Jay is similar, but is more uniform blue-gray throughout, does not have contrasting brown back, and lacks white eyestripe.
  • Island Scrub-Jay, restricted to Santa Cruz Island, is larger, deeper blue, and has blue markings under the tail.
  • Florida Scrub-Jay, restricted to Florida, is smaller and paler, with a pale back and a frosted white forehead.
  • Blue Jay, whose range barely overlaps, has a crest, whitish underparts, and white in wings and tail.

Conservation Status

Common, populations may be increasing. The isolated subspecies found only in the Eagle Mountains of southeastern California is potentially vulnerable to disturbance, and is listed as a species of special concern in California.


Sources used to Construct this Page:

Found in oak and juniper scrub, chaparral, oak and pine woodland, riparian woodland, gardens, and orchards.
  • Curry, R. L., A. T. Peterson, and T. A. Langen. 2002. Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica). In The Birds of North America, No. 692 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Arthropods, small vertebrates, fruits, acorns, and seeds.
Gleans food from ground and branches of shrubs. Stores thousands of acorns each year for later use. Holds food under feet to peck at it.


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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Sexes Similar

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Hand feeding a Scrub Jay Peanuts

All photos 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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