The California Scrub-Jay is a magnificent bird that is a year-round resident out at the Arboretum.
The upper part of the bird is blue and gray which is contrasted by pale, whitish feathers on its underside. The blue extends off the back of the head and neck onto the sides of the breast creating a scarf or necklace that accentuates its white throat. It has a thin, white eyebrow stripe that sits above a dusky gray that surrounds the eye. The plumage is the same for both sexes.
It is a sizable bird at 11 inches in length which is slightly larger than the American Robin and smaller than the American Crow. As it perches on treetops surveying its surroundings, its long tail becomes apparent.
Its bill is straight and stout, with a hook at the tip that comes in handy for gripping the smooth shell of a nut. I recently watched it collect a cached hazelnut and fly off to eat it.
The California Scrub-Jay likes open habitats, oak woodlands, and chaparral areas. Out at the Arboretum, I often see it around the parking lot, the upper part of the creek trails, and the edges of the south meadow.
This bird can be very vocal and is a familiar and recognizable sound to most people. Its voice seems to carry across the landscape as it moves through the treetops defending its territory, warning of predators, expressing the love of its life and home at the Arboretum, etc. Peterson describes its voice as: “Rough, rasping kwesh…kwesh. Also a harsh shreck-shreck-shreck-shreck and a rasping zhreek, zhreek.” In contrast to these cacophonous sounds, during courtship or when the pair is close together they sing “a soft medley of sweet notes that can last up to 5 minutes (All About Birds).” Click here to go to All About Birds to listen.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. I look forward to seeing you out there. Happy Spring!
See more of Bryan’s work here.
California Scrub-Jay Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/California_Scrub-Jay/overview. Accessed 29 Mar. 2023.
Curry, Robert L., et al. “California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma Californica), Version 1.0.” Birds of the World, 2020. birdsoftheworld.org, https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.cowscj1.01.
Peterson, Roger Tory, et al. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. 4th ed, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.