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Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

A medium-sized bird species with a blue-gray head, back, and wings, a grayish-brown breast, and a preference for dry, arid habitats in the western United States.

Of the three species of scrub-jay, the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay enjoys the largest range, occurring over large portions of the western U.S. and Mexico.   They are generally year-round residents, although birds in some areas move to lower elevations in winter. These movements take place during the day.

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays defend territories year-round, and they are usually close enough to one another that a bird perched on a high branch will be visible to its neighbors. Jays can become quite tame if fed regularly, and they are known to sometimes steal acorns stored by Acorn Woodpeckers.

Western Scrub-Jay was split into the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and California Scrub-Jay.  Limited range overlap in eastern California.

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

Description of the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay


The Western Scrub-Jay is generally tame and wide-spread in the western United States, ranging from Texas to California and Oregon. Readily visits backyards and feeders.  Length: 11 in.  Wingspan: 15 in.

Male/breeding plumage:

  • Blue on the head and tail.
  • Prominent gray back further set off by blue wings.
  • Whitish throat.
  • Blue breast band.



The sexes are similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are mostly gray above, with a blue tail and partly blue wings.


Western Scrub-Jays occur in brushy oak woodlands, pinyon-juniper woodlands, and suburbs.


Western Scrub-Jays feed on a wide variety of foods, including insects, nuts, seeds, and berries.


Western Scrub-Jays forage both on the ground and in trees.


Western Scrub-Jay s occur throughout much of the western U.S. and Mexico. Their population has increased in recent decades.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Western-Scrub-Jay.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

The widely separated Island Scrub-Jay and Florida Scrub-Jay were once considered to be the same species as the Western Scrub-Jay.

Western Scrub-Jays bury many acorns for later retrieval.


A variety of loud, harsh calls are given, including a “schreeep” or a fast “enk enk enk”.

Similar Species

  • The Island Scrub-Jay of Santa Cruz Island is slightly larger and darker, while the Florida Scrub-Jay is slightly smaller and paler. Ranges of these two species do not overlap the Western Scrub-Jay.  Some research indicates the Western Scrub-Jay may be split into 2 or more species.
  • The Pinyon Jay is a more uniform blue.
  • Steller’s Jay is crested and darker underneath.
  • Mexican Jay’s lack white over the eye and are a more uniform pale underneath.


The nest is a well-constructed cup of twigs and grass, usually placed low in a tree or shrub.

Number: Usually lay 3-6 eggs.
Color: Pale greenish with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 15-17 days, and leave the nest in another 17-19 days, though they continue to associate with the adults for some time.

Bent Life History of the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Western Scrub-Jay – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.


The California jay of the interior is now known by the above name. Under its former name, Aphelocoina californica immanis, the 1931 Checklist gives its range as “extreme southern Washington, valleys of Oregon between the Cascades and the Coast ranges, and the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys of California and adjacent mountain slopes”

Dr. Grinnell (1901) in describing it, from specimens taken near Scio, Greg., gave as its characters, “in coloration similar to Aphelocoma californica, but size greater and tail proportionately much longer.” This description was apparently based on only four birds, at least the measurements of only four are given, all from the Willamette Valley, Greg. Mr. Swarth (1918), with a much larger series from a much larger area does not agree exactly with Grinnell’s description; he says that immanis is “distinguished from A. c. californica both by large size and pale [italics mine] coloration; from occieptica by pale coloration, size being about the same.” At the time that Dr. Grinnell described nnmanis the characters and the distribution of the California races of Aphelocoma were not so well understood as they are today, and the fact had not been recognized that the two coastal races are dark colored and the interior race is paler. Ridgway (1904) does not recognize immanis but lists it as a synonym of californica.

Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale (1930) call this bird the interior California jay, an appropriate name. They say of its haunts in the Lassen Peak region: “This species, belonging to the brush-covered portions of the section, found suitable surroundings on the western slope of the section where the following kinds of plants grew: buck-brush, scrub oak, elderberry, hazel brush, manzanita, red-bud, grapevine. Tndividuals were also often seen in trees, but, as a rule, in their lower portions. The kinds of trees thus frequented were: blue oak, willow, living or fire-killed digger pine, knobcone pine, cottonwood, valley oak, sycamore, box elder, and orchard trees. In the eastern part of the section the jays frequented the slopes that were juniper covered. In addition to the junipers they were seen in mountain mahogany, sage-brush, and willows (in the canons) ”

Nesting: The nesting habits of the long-tailed jay are apparently similar to those of the other California races, and the eggs are practically indistinguishable. The measurements of 40 eggs average 28.4 by 21.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 31.2 by 21.3, 27.4 by 22.0, 25.0 by 20.0, and 26.5 by 19.5 millimeters.

Young: Grinnell and Storer (1924) have written quite fully on the habits of this subspecies, some of which may well be quoted here. While watching the two parent birds feeding their young, they noted that: the parent birds had a particular route in approaching and leaving the nest, and this route was adhered to strictly. They would always approach through the trees of a wooded slope to the east, and then, having reached the nest tree, hop by easy stages to a position on the west side of the nest. From there the nestlings would be fed, and then the nest cleaned. After that the bird would work out of the south side of the willow, fly to a digger pine across the creek immediately above our tent, hop upward until near the top of the pine, and from there would take off in a direct course to its next forage ground. Even when the jays had been hunting insects in the open area immediately west of our camp, they would circle about when ready to return to the nest and approach it from the east. Only one adult visited the nest at a time although they often followed one another in quick succession. Save for the low crooning given when standing over the young, no calls were uttered while the parents were in the vicinity of the nest. There was a “zone of quiet” about their home, within which the owners would not call or raise any alarm.

Behavior: Of its behavior they say: “The Interior California Jay is notoriously bold and forward in its behavior; although it is counted as a nonflocking species, individuals and pairs will gather quickly in response to the excited calls of one of their kin. The birds seem never to be so busy with their own affairs that they cannot stop and investigate any object of an unusual nature. Ordinarily this jay is the picture of animation. Perched, it stands in an attitude of alertness, its head up, tail straight back or tilted slightly upward, and feet slightly spread. Just after alighting a jay will often execute a deep bow involving the entire body, and this may be repeated a number of times and in different directions. The purpose of this bowing is not clear to us”

Mrs. Ruth Wheeler writes to me of her experience with this jay: “I had a very interesting experience last year photographing a family of the California jay. We found the parents to be extremely wary. I have never worked with birds that appeared to show as much intelligence. We set up our bird blind near their nest, which was in a young oak, and only about 4 feet from the ground. Although the birds had become used to the blind and were nowhere to be seen when we entered, still they appeared to know that we were there. They came back very quietly, slipping through the trees and alighting near the blind. Then one of them leaned over and peered through the small opening through which the camera was focused. After looking very carefully, he saw us and set up a great outcry. We were able to get only one picture of the nest, which we took with a flash. After that the birds would not come near while we were in the blind”

Voice: Grinnell and Storer (1924) describe the notes of this jay as only slightly different from those of the other subspecies, but they add to our knowledge of the bird’s varied vocabulary, perhaps a limited language. Grinnell gives “cheek, cheek, cheek, etc., staccato, 3 to 10 times in rapid succession; chz~-ick, chi~-ick, chi~-ick, etc., usually in 3’s slowly; schwee-ick, higher-pitched, 2 to 6 times, uttered still more slowly.” Storer adds: “A series of mildly harsh notes, kwish, kwish, kzuish, uttered usually 3 to 5 times in quick succession; a more protracted softer note, kschu-ee, or jai-e, usually given singly. Birds of a pair when foraging together, and young and adults when in family parties, utter a subdued guttural krr’r’r’r’r. When attending young still in the nest, the parent birds utter a low crooning, impossible of representation in syllables; and the young birds, after leaving the nest and before gaining their living independently, have a ‘teasing scold’ which they utter almost incessantly, in keeping their parents apprised of their need for food”


Harry S. Swarth (1918) gave the above name to the flat-headed jays of “the coast region of northern California, west from Mount Diablo and the coast ranges. North to Humboldt Bay, south to the Golden Gate and the east side of San Francisco Bay.” Of its distinguishing characters, he says: “Of large size and dark coloration. In color closely similar to A. c. calijornica, but size measureably greater throughout. In measurements oocleptica is equal to the maximum of immanis, from which subspecies it is distinguished by its dark coloration. Differs from hypoleuca both in greater size and much darker color”

Nesting: There is not much to be said about the nesting habits of the Nicasio jay, which are practically the same as those of the other California subspecies. John W. Mailliard (1912) says that this jay is an abundant resident in Mann County and that their “nesting notes upon this species established the following sites for the eighty-three nests observed: oaks 69; bay 3; wild coffee 4; elder 2; madrona 1; gooseberry 1; toxon 1; poison oak 2. And yet in Belvedere, Mann County, where live-oaks are most plentiful, a nest has been built almost yearly, for seven or eight years, in a clematis which climbs up the side of our summer home. The nest has usually been placed within reach of, as well as observation from, the window of a constantly occupied bed room, a window opening out and frequently opened and closed daily”

Eggs: The eggs of the Nicasio jay are practically indistinguishable from those of the California jay and show the same interesting variations. The measurements of 40 eggs average 27.8 by 20.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 30.8 by 21.8, 29.0 by 22.4, 24.4 by 19.3, and 25.4 by 18.8 millimeters.

Food: The notes that Charles A. Allen, of Nicasio, Calif., sent to Major Bendire (1895) evidently refer to this race. He writes:

No bird is more destructive of the smaller species building Open, unconcealed nests than this Jay. I have seen one alight on a limb near a nest, eat the eggs that it contained, and, not satisfied with this, give the nest a down and inward stroke with its bill, ripping it open. They are especially destructive to the nests of the Black-chinned and Anna’s Hummingbirds and the Ground Tit. They also become altogether too familiar about the poultry houses, and will eat the eggs as fast as the hens iay them. As soon as they hear a hen cackle after laying, three or four of these birds go to the spot at once. Even the chicken house affords no protection against these robbers, if they can find a way of entering it; shooting is equally ineffectual, for they are too numerous. They destroy vast quantities of fruit in apple, peach, pear, and plum orchards, as well as many smaller fruits. Shooting them by hundreds and hanging their carcasses in the fruit trees a’ scarecrows is of no avail; they do not know enough to be frightened at anything. I have tried to poison them, but never saw a dead one except when shot. They also destroy a great deal of young wlseat when first sown, until it is 2 or 3 inches high. They pull it out of the ground and eat the soft, swelled grains; after the stalks begin to grow they will not molest it.

One cannot help feeling that the above bitter invective is somewhat overdrawn and perhaps a bit prejudiced. His statement that they “do not know enough to be frightened” is offset by the fact that he was never able to poison one; the truth of the matter probably is that they know too much to be frightened unnecessarily, and that they are crafty enough to avoid real danger. His statement that they pull up sprouting grain does not agree with Professor Beal’s (1910) statement that “the jay is not known to pull up grain after it has sprouted”

But Professor Beal evidently overlooked Mr. Allen’s statement, as well as the following from Joseph Mailliard (1900) : “I have had acres of peas * * * practically destroyed by these birds. * * * ~ remember one spring when a patch of about an acre and a half was sown with a mixture of peas and oats, and the peas were pulled up as fast as sprouted, by the jays, so that the crop consisted of oats alone. * * * Some years they destroy a lot of corn and other years almost none.

This year the Jays, in conjunction with Towbees, Juncos and a few Flickers, badly damaged some late sown oats beside the house.” He watched them through glasses and saw them pull up the sprouting grain and eat the kernels.

Professor Beal (1910) adds the following observation in the jay’s favor: “But the jays do not frequent orchards entirely for fruit. During May and June the writer many times visited an apple orchard, the leaves of which were badly infested with a small green caterpillar, locally known as the canker worm. When a branch is jarred, these insects let themselves down to the ground on a thread spun for the purpose. Many jays were seen to fly into the orchard, alight in a tree, and then almost immediately drop to the ground. Observation showed that the caterpillars, disturbed by the shock of the bird’s alighting on a branch, dropped, and that the birds immediately followed and gathered them in. These caterpillars were found in the stomachs of several jays, in one case to the extent of 90 percent of the contents”

Voice: Mr. Allen mentions some notes of this jay that are somewhat different from those recorded by others; he wrote to Major Bendire (1895): “One of their notes of alarm, uttered when they see something they do not like, especially an Owl asleep in a tree, sounds like ‘c~ir, ci~r, cur ; as soon as this is heard by others in the vicinity they will commence to gather and join in the chorus. A sort of social note of recognition sounds like ‘whdze, whi~ze’, given while moving about among the trees and shrubbery, and one of their common call notes sounds like ‘creak, creak'”


The three subspecies of Aphelocoma coerulescen~ that are found in California are common, and in many places abundant, over almost all the State, except the desert regions and the mountains, but the subject of this sketch, A. c. californica, is confined to a comparatively narrow coastal strip along the southern half of the coast. The 1931 Check-list gives its range as “from the southern arm of San Francisco Bay to the Mexican line, east to the eastern base of the Coast ranges.” But Swarth (1918), who does not recognize A. c. obscura, extends its range into northern Lower California, as far south as the San Pedro M~rtir Mountains.

Roughly speaking, the characters distinguishing the three California races are size and color.

Swarth (1918) says that californica, as compared with immanis (now sz~perci1iosa), the interior form, “is of small size and dark coloration. The blue areas are of a deeper shade, the back distinctly darker brown, and the light colored under parts have a dusky suffusion. Lower tail coverts usually tinged with blue, sometimes conspicuously so. Coloration is about the same in californica as in cocleptica [the northern coast form], from which subspecies californica is distinguished by smaller size throughout.” The other two races are larger than californica, and both about the same size, but cocleptica is dark colored and superciliosa is much paler.

The habitats of the three races and their general habits are all very similar. One life history might well do for all three. They all live mainly in the Upper Sonoran Zone, with some extension of range into the Lower Sonoran and Transition Zones. Their favorite haunts are the oak and brush-covered foothills of the mountains, the brush-covered sides of the canyons, the oak and digger-pine chaparral, thickets of Ceano thus and poison-oak bushes, and among the small trees and shrubbery along watercourses. In such places, where there is ample concealment among the thick foliage, this handsome, flat-headed, mischievous villain is quite sure to be found; if not immediately in evidence, the well-known squeaking sound, such as one uses to call small birds, will bring all the jays within hearing of it.

Nesting: Major Bendire (1895) writes:

The nests are usually found on brush-covered hillsides or in creek bottoms, placed in low bushes and thickets, such as blackberry, poison oak, wild gooseberry, currant, hazel, hawthorn, and scrub-oak bushes, or in osage-orange hedges; occasionally in a small piVion pine or a bushy young fir, and quite frequently on a horizontal limb of an oak, varying in height from 3 to 30 feet from the ground. In the majority of cases the nests are located near water, but sometimes one may be found fully a mile distant. Externally they are composed of a platform of interlaced twigs, mixed occasionally with moss, wheat stubble, and dry grass; on this the nest proper is placed, which consists of a lining of fine roots, sometimes mixed wih horsehair. No mud enters into the composition of their nests. One now before me * * * measures 9 inches in outer diameter by 3~/~ inches in height; the inner cup is 4 inches in diameter by 2 inches deep. Outwardly it is composed of small twigs of sagebrush, and the lining consists entirely of fine roots; it is compactly built and well constructed. The nests are usually well concealed, and the birds are close sitters, sometimes remaining on the nests until almost touched.

In addition to the trees and shrubs mentioned above, nests of the California jay have been found in live oaks, elders, willows, apple trees, pear trees, junipers, cypresses, and honeysuckles. W. L. Dawson (1923) says:

Taking the country over, nests built in oak trees probably outnumber all others combined, yet the component members of the chaparral, ceanothus, chamissal, and the rest, must do duty in turn, and all species of the riparian sylva as well. The thick-set clumps of mistletoe are very hospitable to this bird, and since this occurs on oaks, cottonwoods, and, occasionally, digger pines, it follows that jayheim is found there also. * * *

The lining varies delightfully, but is largely dependent, it is only fair to say, upon the breed of horses or cattle affected on the nearest ranch. So we have nests with white, black, bay, and sorrel linings, not to mention dapple gray and pinto. One fastidious bird of my acquaintance, after she had constructed a dubious lining of mottled material, discovered a coal black steed overtaken by mortality. New furnishings were ordered forthwith. The old lining was pitched Out bodily, and the coal black substitute installed immediately, to the bird’s vast satisfaction: and mine.

Eggs: Four to six eggs generally constitute a complete set for the California jay; as few as two and as many as seven have been recorded. The eggs are usually ovate in shape, rarely elongate-ovate. They are very beautifully colored and show a wide range of variation, seldom, if ever, equaled and never exceeded among North American birds’ eggs. In any series of these colorful eggs there are apparent two quite distinct types of coloration, the green and the red. Lawrence Stevens, of Santa Barbara, writes to me that about half of the sets that he takes are of the green type and half of the red type. He finds eggs of the green type mostly in the creek bottoms in willows, usually in sets of four, and finds eggs of the red type mostly on the hillsides, in sets of five. As several other collectors do not agree with him on these points, there is probably no correlation of color with the locality or the size of the set. He mentions one set that has a cream-colored background with red spots, that one would hardly believe to be jays’ eggs.

James B. Dixon tells me that only about two sets in ten are of the red type. Dawson (1923) describes the colors very well as follows:

The red type is much the rarer. In this the ground color varies from clear grayish white to the normal green of the prevailing type; while the markings: fine dots or spots or, rarely, confluent blotches: are of a warm sepia, hister, verona brown, or Rood’s brown. The ground color of the green type varies from pale sulphate green to lichen green, and the markings from deep olive to Lincoln green. In the Museum of Comparative Zoology we have a set kindly furnished by Mr. H. W. Carriger, whose markings are reduced to the palest subdued freckling of pea-green. In another set of the red type, fine Mars brown markings of absolute uniformity cover the egg; while the eggs of another set are covered as to their larger ends with an olive-green cloud cap, which leaves the remainder of the specimen almost free of markings.

Bendire (1895) describes the eggs somewhat differently as follows: “The ground color of the egg of the California Jay is very variable, ranging from deep sea green to pea and sage green, and again to dull olive and vinaceous buff. The eggs with the greenish ground color usually have markings of a dark bottle-green tint, mixed sometimes with different shades of sage green. The eggs having a buffy ground color are spotted, blotched, and speckled with different shades of ferruginous, cinnamon, rufous, and occasionally lavender. The markings are generally scattered over the entire surface of the egg, and are usually heavier about the larger end, but nowhere so profuse as to hide the ground color”

The measurements of 50 eggs average 27.6 by 20.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 30.6 by 21.8, 30.2 by 22.4, 24.4 by 19.3, and 25.4 by 18.8 millimeters.

Young: Bendire (1895) says that the male assists “to some extent in incubation, which lasts about sixteen days. The young are able to leave the nest in about eighteen days, and follow the parents for some time.” Mrs. Wheelock (1904) says that “the male assists in the nestbuilding, but not in the incubation. The latter requires fourteen days. * * * One of the first lessons the young Jays learn is to love the water. It requires some coaxing for the first splash, but they seem to take to their bath as do little ducks, and to find it just as necessary as food”

Plumages: The young jay is hatched naked and blind; probably some form of natal down appears in advance of the juvenal plumage. though I have not seen it. Ridgway (1904) gives the following detailed description of the juvenal plumage: “Pileum, hind neck, auricular and suborbital regions, sides of chest, rump, and upper tail-coverts uniform mouse gray, the pileum slightly more bluish gray; back, scapulars, and lesser wing-coverts deep drab-gray; lores dusky; a broad postocular and supra-auricular space, narrowly streaked with dusky gray; anterior portion of malar region, chin, throat, median portion of chest and under parts generally white, faintly tinged across upper breast and on anterior portion of sides with very pale brownish gray; wings (except smaller coverts) and tail as in adults”

The postjuvenal molt begins early in July, and I have seen a young bird beginning to molt on the throat and upper breast as early as June 29. This molt involves all the contour plumage and the lesser wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings and tail. I have seen no specimens showing the latter part of this molt, but it is apparently completed before September, when young birds become practically adult.

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt, which seems to be accomplished mainly in August; the plumage becomes much worn and faded during late spring and early summer, the blue wearing off on the head, exposing the dusky bases of the feathers, the brown of the back fading. and the under parts becoming soiled and browner; I have seen birds molting in August and others in full fresh plumage as early as September 24.

Food: Prof. F. E. L. Beal (1910) examined 326 stomachs of the California jay, and found that 27 percent of the food consisted of animal matter and 73 percent vegetable, though the animal matter amounted to 70 percent in April. Among the insect food, he lists predaceous ground beetles, mostly beneficial species, 2.5 percent for the year and as much as 10 percent in April; other beetles, mostly harmful, 8 percent for the year and 31 percent in April; wasps, bees, and ants amounted to less than 5 percent; honey bees were found in 9 stomachs, and all, 20 in number, were workers; Lepidoptera, mainly in the caterpillar stage, amounted to 2.5 percent; this item included 12 pupae of the coddling moth, an unexpected service that would cover a multitude of sins in other directions; grasshoppers and crickets were eaten to the extent of 4.5 percent. Of other animal food, he says: “A few miscellaneous creatures, such as raphidians, spiders, snails, etc., form less than onehalf of 1 percent of the food. * * * Besides the insects and other invertebrates already discussed, the jay eats some vertebrates. The remains consisted of bones or feathers of birds in 8 stomachs, eggshells in 38, bones of small mammals (mice and shrews) in 11, and bones of reptiles and batrachians in 13 stomachs.” In destroying small mammals the jay does good service, as most of them are injurious, but the same cannot be said about its appetite for the useful reptiles and batrachians. The damage to the eggs and young of small birds is a serious matter. Some 95 stomachs were collected between the middle of May and the middle of July, the height of the nesting season, “of which 17, or 18 percent, contained eggs or remains of young birds. If we may infer, as seems reasonable, that 18 percent of the California jays rob birds’ nests every day during the nesting season, then we must admit that the jays are a tremendous factor in preventing the increase of our common birds. Mr. Joseph Grinnell, of Pasadena, after careful observation, estimates the number of this species in California at about 126,000. This is probably a low estimate. If 18 percent of this number, or 22,680 jays, each robs a nest of eggs or young daily for a period of sixty days from the middle of May to the middle of July, the total number of nests destroyed in California by this one species every year is 1,360,800”

Mr. Dawson (1923) draws a still blacker picture; he figures, on the basis of suitable acreage and average population per acre, that there are 499,136 pairs of California jays in the State and says: “If we allow only one set of eggs or nest of birds to each pair of jays per diem for a period of two months, we shall be well within the mark of actuality. Yet that will give us in a season a total destruction of 29,948,160 nests, or, say, 100,000,000 eggs.” These figures look appalling, but, in considering them, we must not lose sight of three important facts: First, jays and small birds have existed together for untold ages without any serious reduction in the number of the latter; second, the increase in small birds is limited by the amount of suitable area that will support them, and such area is probably kept filled to capacity; and third, it is a well-known fact that if a pair of birds is robbed of its eggs a second or third set will be laid; this is less likely to happen, however, if the young are taken.

But wild birds are not the only sufferers from the depredations of this jay; the eggs and young of domestic poultry are preyed upon. Professor Beal (1910) writes:

He is a persistent spy upon domestic fowls and well knows the meaning of the caclde of a hen. A woman whose home is at the mouth of a small ravine told the writer that one of her hens had a nest under a bush a short distance up the ravine from the cottage. A lay had found this out, and every day when the hen went on her nest the jay would perch on a near-by tree. As soon as the cackle of the hen was heard, both woman and bird rushed to get the egg, but many times the jay reached the nest first and secured the prize. * * *

A still worse trait of the jay was described by a young man engaged in raising poultry on a ranch far up a canyon near wooded hills. When his white leghorn chicks were small, the jays would attack and kill them by a fcw blows of the beak, and then peck open the skull and eat the brains. In spite of all endeavors to protect the chicks and to shoot the jays, his losses were serious.

Of the vegetable food, mast, mainly acorns, is the largest item, and during the late fall and winter months made up one-half to threequarters of the entire food; October showed the largest amount, 88.57 percent. Acorns and nuts are carried off and stored wherever they can be hidden in cracks and crevices, hut since many are dropped on the way, or hidden on the ground, the jay may be considered useful as a tree planter.

Grain constitutes an important item; in March, when grain was being sown, it amounted to 45.50 percent; and again, during the harvesting season in September, it made up 24.26 percent of the food. “Grain was found in 95 stomachs, of which 56 contained oats; 34, corn; 2, wheat; 2, barley; and 1, grain not further identified. Many of the oats were of the wild variety.

“Fruit was found in 270 stomachs. Of these, cherries were identified in 37, prunes in 25, apples in 5, grapes in 2, pears in 2, peaches in 1, gooseberries in 2, figs in 1, blackberries or raspberries in 71, elderberries in 42, manzanita in 4, cascara in 1, mistletoe in 1, and fruit pulp not further identified in 76.” He remarks, further, that “it is safe to say that half of the fruit eaten was of wild varieties and of no economic value.” His table shows that fruit formed 22.05 percent of the total food for the year but averaged nearly half of it during the summer months and 61.41 percent in May. In addition to what fruit the jay eats, much more is damaged and left on the trees to rot and more falls to the ground.

Robert S. Woods writes to me: “The California jay is very destructive to almonds and finds no difficulty in cracking the harder-shelled varieties. Its raids begin before the nuts are ripe enough for human consumption and continue as long as any of the crop remains. The almond is held against a branch with the foot and vigorously pounded with the bill until an opening is made large enough to permit the kernel to be extracted piecemeal. English walnuts are broken into while still on the tree. However, the Eureka variety, at least, seems to be immune after the shell has thoroughly hardened, though some of the thinnershelled strains or varieties could doubtless be successfully attacked even after maturity.

“Jays will often eat dry bread crumbs but greatly prefer food of a more fatty nature. When coarsely chopped suet is placed on a feeding table, it is ignored by most of the local dooryard birds, but the jays will diligently carry away and hide the pieces until all are gone”

From the foregoing evidence it may be seen that the California jay has more faults than virtues. It has few redeeming traits, and economically it does more harm than good. Its beauty and its lively manners make it an attractive feature in the landscape, but it may be that there are too many jays in California.

Behavior: There is much in the actions of the California jay that reminds one of our familiar eastern blue jay; it is a handsome villain, but one misses the jaunty crest. It is far less shy, much bolder, more impertinent, and more mischievous. Its flight is just as slow and apparently laborious, accomplished by vigorous, heavy flappings of its wings on its usually short flights; it lives mostly at the lower levels among the trees and shrubbery and may often be seen sailing down over a brush-covered hillside with its blue wings and tail widely spread; as it glides upward to its perch it greets the observer with its harsh cries. It is quick and agile in all its movements, as it darts about through the underbrush, where it searches diligently for small birds’ nests, or follows the little birds about to learn their secrets. It is not above picking a quarrel with the California woodpecker, whose stores it probably wants to steal, but, like most thieves, it is a cowardly bird and often needs the support of its fellow brigands. It is cordially disliked and dreaded by all the smaller birds. It is a nuisance, too, to the sportsman or the bird student, as its curiosity leads it to follow a human being about and proclaim his presence in such a loud voice that every creature within hearing is warned to disappear.

This jay seems to have a sense of humor or a fondness for play. Joseph Mailliard (1904) gives an amusing account of the behavior of California jays with his cats, stealing their food and teasing them. While a jay is attempting to steal food from a cat, “each has the measure of the other, and while a cat is watching, it is rarely that a jay approaches within reach of its business end, though it will do all it can to make the cat jump at it, or at least turn away. Grimalkin has learned to keep her tail well curled up when feeding, as a favorite trick of the jay is to give a vigorous peck at any extended tail and, when the cat turns to retaliate, to jump for the prize and make off with shrieks of exultation. * * * To find a cat napping, with its tail partially extended is absolute joy to one of these birds, which will approach cautiously from the rear, cock its head on one side and eye that tail until it can no longer resist the temptation, and, finally after hopping about a few times most carefully and noiselessly, Mr. (or Mrs.) Jay will give the poor tail a vicious peck and then fly, screeching with joy, to the nearest bush”

One day, after one of the cats had hidden her ne~vly born kittens in the garden, “a faint mewing outside the window attracted the attention of someone in the kitchen when lo and behold there was a jay hauling a very young kitten out from under a young artichoke plant in the garden. The jay lugged the poor kitten along for a little way, seeming to enjoy its feeble wails, and then stopped and screeched in exultation over the find, only to repeat the process again and again. Needless to say the old cat was not present at the moment or things would have been made more lively. The bird certainly did not want to eat the kitten, and the affair seems to have been nothing else than a matter of pure mischief”

Voice: Mrs. Bailey (1902) describes this jay~8 voice very well as follows: “The Aphelocoma voice differs strikingly from that of frontalis, having a flat tone and being uttered with unseemly haste. Its notes vary greatly in expression and are so emphatic and often peremptory that one cannot doubt that something important is being said. A favorite cry, used apparently to rouse attention, is quick ‘quay-quay-quay-quayquay-quay-quay.’ Another still more emphatic one is boy’ee boy’-ee while an inquiring quay-keeP is often heard. Sometimes when a jay flies down to a companion it gives its quay-quay-quay-quay-qUaY and is answered by a high-keyed qn eep~queep-queep-queeP: –hoWevCr that may be interpreted”

Ralph Hoffmann (1927) says that “the California Jay utters a succession of harsh cries like the syllable tschek. tschek, slightly higher pitched than those of the Steller Jay. Another note commonly uttered when the bird is perched is a very harsh ker-wheek.” James B. Dixon tells me that “the male has a very pleasing ventriloquial song, which he sings during the mating season and which can be heard only a very short distance”

Field marks: A flat, crestless, blue head, a pale brown back, blue wings and tail, and a white-streaked throat will serve to distinguish this species from the much darker crested jays of the stelleri group. Its jaylike behavior and its loud voice make it conspicuously different from other birds.

Enemies: Jays are probably sometimes attacked by predatory birds and animals, but they are fairly well able to take care of themselves and defend their eggs and young. Man seems to be their bitter enemy. Large numbers are shot every year by farmers and fruit growers where the jays are damaging their crops. Organized jay shoots are popular in some parts of California, under the pretext of reducing the numbers of a destructive bird, but largely, too, as a pleasant recreation and an interesting competition for the shooters; dealers in ammunition also find it profitable. Dr. Mary M. Erickson (1937) witnessed one of these shoots and has published an interesting article on it. She says:

Jay shoots have been held in Calaveras County for many years. Two persons reported that hunts have taken place about once a year during the eleven and fourteen years they had lived in the vicinity. Two old-time residents said that occasional shoots had been held thirty or forty years previously. Recently, one or two shoots a year have been held, usually in the fall, sometimes in the spring, but the time of year and the number are irregular. The last shoot had been held on October 20, 1935, when, according to a local newspaper, 1368 jays were killed. The shoots, at least in recent years, have been conducted as contests between two teams, and after the count there has been a dinner, or as this year, a barbecue sn which wives and friends shared, at the expense of the losing side.

In the shoot that she witnessed, 398 California jays, 214 Steller’s jays, 1 red-tailed hawk, I Cooper’s hawk, and 3 sparrow hawks were brought in. She estimated that an area of approximately 200 square miles was covered in the hunt, but probably not with systematic thoroughness. “On the day before the shoot, fifteen hours were spent by Mr. Hooper and me in taking a census in three sample areas of typical jay habitat, and every effort was made to get an accurate count. On this meagre basis, the population is estimated as one jay, either California or Steller, for every 5Y2 acres of suitable habitat, or 118 jays per square mile of such habitat. * * * In comparison with these figures, an estimate for Calaveras County of one jay for every 5Y2 acres, in an acre of equally good or better habitat, does not seem excessive. Assuming that only half of the total area is suitable for occupancy by jays, the jay population of the 200 square miles in which the hunting was most concentrated, would be 11,636. On this basis, the shooting of 612 jays resulted in destruction of about 5 per cent of the jay population”

The shoot in which these 612 jays were killed was at the beginning of the nesting season, when it would have the maximum effect on the breeding population. She reasons that ” the shoot held in the fall of 1935 when the population was near its maximum, probably did not eliminate more than 5 per cent of the next breeding population [italics mine], even though twice as many were killed, for part of the kill was composed of birds which in time would have been destroyed by natural forces.~~ Probably this 5 percent reduction in numbers, even if accomplished every year, would have no appreciable effect on the year to year population of jays. For it is a well-known fact that every suitable habitat is filled up to its capacity to support the species; and that the removal of a few individuals makes it just so much easier for others to survive, or to drift in from outside. Natural causes probably eliminate much more than 5 percent of the species each year, but any release of pressure enables the species to expand and fill in the gap. Any attempt at a wholesale and systematic elimination of the California jays, that would be effective, would prove very expensive and would probably not succeed.

Range: Western United States and Mexico; not regularly migratory. The range of the California jay extends north to southwestern Washington (Vancouver) ; southeastern Oregon (Malbeur Lake) ; northern Utah (Ogden); and northern Colorado (Two Bar Springs and Sedalia). East to central Colorado (Sedalia and Fountain); northwestern Oklahoma (Kenton) ; eastern New Mexico (Santa Rosa and Capitan Mountains); western Texas (San Angelo and Kerrville); Coahuila (Sierra Guadalupe and Carneros); San Luis Potosi (Chorcas and Jesi~s Maria); Hidalgo (Real del Monte); Veracruz (Perote and Orizaba); and Oaxaca (Coixtlahuaca and Mount Zempoaltepec). South to Oaxaca (Mount Zempoaltepec and Ejutla); and southern Baja California (Cape San Lucas). West to Baja California (Cape San Lucas, Llano de Yrais, San Ignacio, and San Pedro M~rtir Mountains): western California (San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Red Bluff, and Mount Shasta) ; western Oregon (Waldo, Corvallis, and Dayton) ; and southwestern Washington (Vancouver).

As outlined, the range includes the entire species, of which 10 sub: species are currently recognized. The typical California jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens californica) occupies the coastal region of California from San Francisco Bay south to the Mexican border; the long-tailed jay (A. c. zmnrnnis) is found in the interior, from the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys of California north to southern Washington; the Nicasio jay (A. c. occieptica) is found in the coast region of northern California; Belding’s jay (A. c. obscura) is found mainly in the Upper Austral Zone of northwestern Baja California; Xantus’s jay (A. c. hypoleuca) occupies the Cape district of Baja California; Woodhouse’s jay (A. c. woodhousei) is found from southeastern Oregon and the central Rocky Mountain region south to southwestern Texas and southeastern California; the Texas jay (A. c. texana) is found in central Texas south to the Davis Mountains, and probably to northern Coahuila; the blue-gray jay (A. c. grisca), occupies the Sierra Madre region of southern Chihuahua and Durango; Sumichrast’s jay (A. c. sumichrasti), is found in the southeastern parts of the Mexican tahieland, chiefly in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Oaxaca; while the bluecheeked jay (A. c. cyanotis) occupies the Mexican Plateau from the states of Mexico and Hidalgo north into Coahuila and Durango. There is almost endless intergradation between some of these races. The desert California jay (A. c. cactophila) occurs in central Baja California.

Egg dates: California: 160 records, March 10 to July 11; 80 records, April 6 to 30, indicating the height of the season.

Mexico: 22 records, March 20 to June 24; 11 records, April 20 to May 16.

Oregon: 4 records, April 20 to June 4.

Texas: 28 records, March 14 to May 18; 10 records, March 30 to May 8.

WooDnousE~s JAY

Arizona: 9 records, April 5 to June 6.

New Mexico: 8 records, April 19 to May 27.

Utah: 26 records, April 6 to May 20; 14 records, April 25 to May 3.


Santa Cruz Island: 27 records, February 6 to May 16; 13 records, March 27 to April 7.

Belding’s jay now seems to be recognized as a valid race of the coerulescens species, inhabiting northwestern Baja California as far south as latitude 300 N. It was named by A. W. Anthony (1889) and described as “differing from A. caiifornice in much darker colors and weaker feet.” It was accepted by the A. 0. U. committee in the 1910 and the 1931 Check-lists, and by Ridgway (1904), regardless of the fact that it is practically identical in coloration and size with the California jays found in the southern half of the coast region of California, though darker and smaller than the long-tailed jay (immanis) found in the interior of California, as shown by Swarth (1918). Mr. Swarth’s remarks on the subject are worth quoting in full, as they throw some light on the status of this race. In his study of this genus, he says:

The present treatment of the races of the California jay differs from that in most recent literature covering the subject (e.g., A. 0. U. Check-list, 1910, p. 225; Ridgway, 1904, pp. 327-331) in that it does not recognize the subspecies obscure. This race was described by Anthony (1889, p. 75) from specimens taken in the San Pedro Martir Mountains, Lower California. In a subsequent paper (1893, p. 239) the same writer asserts that birds from the San Pedro Martir Mountains and from San Diego County, California, are indistinguishable, and for some years past the name obscure has been generally used to cover the bird of the San Diegan region of California. * * * Comparison of series from these points, however, with specimens from various coastal localities as far north as San Francisco Bay (including the vicinity of Monterey, the type locality of californica), shows that all belong to the same race, that there are no characters serving to distinguish specimens from these several places. Hence the name obscura must be considered a synonym of califorisica.

Aphelocoma californica obscure was described as a smaller and darker colored bird than A. c. californica. Perpetuation of this error may have occurred through comparison of southern California specimens with others from the Sacramento Valley or the Sierra Nevada, in the belief that the latter were representative of typical caiifor,sica. This assumption is wrong, however, and although jays from certain sections of California may readily be distinguished as, respectively, larger and paler, or smaller and darker, true californica and obscure both fall into the latter category.

It is significant, also, that Mr. Anthony (1893), in his subsequent paper, appears in doubt about the status of this race, for he says; “It seems, however, from the series now on hand as if obscura would have to be reduced to a synonym of caiifornice”

The San Pedro M~rtir Mountains have produced so many new subspecies, five described by Mr. Anthony (1889) and a number more by others, that it seems worth while to quote his description of them:

About one hundred and fifty miles south of the United States boundary, and midway between the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California, lies a high range of mountains, which is marked upon the later maps of the peninsula as ‘San Pedro Martir.’ The region embraces a series of small ranges which rise from an elevated ,tsese, having a mean elevation of about 8,000 feet, and an extent of sixty by twenty miles. In these mountains are born the only streams that this part of the peninsula affords, and an abundance of pine timber is found throughout the region. Many of the ranges on the eastern side of the San Pedro Martir rise to an elevation of 11,000 feet, or even, in one or two places, to 12,000 (?) feet.

Arising as the region does from the dry, barren hills of the lower country to an elevation higher than any other on the peninsula or in Southern California, and presenting in its alpine vegetation and clear mountain streams features so different from the dry mauzanita and sage-covered hills of the surrounding country, it is not unnatural to suppose that its animal life would be found to differ in some respects from that of the surrounding hills.

Mr. Anthony found this jay ranging up to 10,000 feet in these mountains. He says nothing about the habits of the bird, and nothing seems to be published on the subject elsewhere.

The measurements of 12 eggs average 27.8 by 20.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 29.2 by 21.1, 26.4 by 20.6. and 26.8 by 20.2 millimeters.

Laurence M. Huey (1942) gave the above names to the jays of this species found in the central portion of the peninsula of Baja California. In his description of it, he says that it “is closest to A. c. hypoleuca of the Cape District of Lower California. From that form it differs in the general tone of the back, which is darker, more slaty; also the underparts are not as white as are those of hypoleuca, having a faint wash of gray color which is more highly exemplified in Aphelocoma calijoriska [=coerulescens] obscura from the northernmost part of the peninsula and in the races farther north in upper California. The bib, or throat, and sides of neck are of a darker shade on both their blue and dusky aspects than are those of hypoleuca, and lighter than those of obscura”

Of its range, he says: “From near latitude 290 20′, south over the width of the peninsula to the vicinity of Mulej~, on the gulf coast near latitude 270. On the Pacific slope the range extends farther south, latitude 250 40′ being reached before intergradation takes places”

This subspecies seems to be strictly intermediate in characters between the race to the northward of it and that to the southward of it, which might he expected in the intermediate territory that it occupies.


In the Lower Austral and Arid Tropical Zones of the southern half of Lower California, south of latitude 280 or 290 N., we find this smaller and paler form of the California jay. Not only is it decidedly smaller than the more northern forms of the species, but also the blue portions of its plumage are a lighter and more clearly azure blue, the under parts are more purely white, and the bill and feet are relatively larger.

William Brewster (1902) writes: “This, the only Jay known to inhabit the Cape Region, is very common and generally distributed there, being found almost everywhere from the sea-coast to the tops of the highest mountains. About La Paz it nests in March, but the birds seen by Mr. Frazar on the Sierra de Ia Laguna in May and early June were in flocks and showed no signs of having bred that season or of being about to breed. They probably leave the mountains before the beginning of winter and seek more sheltered haunts in the valleys and foothills at lower elevations, for Mr. Frazar did not find a single individual on the Sierra de Ia Laguna during his second visit, in the latter part of November, 1887”

Griffing Bancroft (1930) says of its haunts: “The habitat of these jays is arboreal associations other than those of the oases. The level country adjoining San Lucas Lagoon in places is heavily overgrown with mesquite and palo verde. The small cafions in the mountains support scattered trees. The large valleys are frequently dotted with them, especially where moisture is not too far beneath the surface. The ripanan associations are almost uniformly accompanied by the taller growths. Within these limitations kypoleuca is common, for a jay.” He also writes to me that he found it “most abundant in the vast mangrove swamps of Magdalena Bay, but did not observe it elsewhere in the mangroves.

Nesting: Although eggs were collected by Xantus as early as 1860, Walter E. Bryant (1889) was the first to describe a nest, as follows: “A single nest of this new variety was found by myself a few miles southward from San Ignacio on April 12, 1889. The nest was built about three meters high in a green acacia near the trail. The female was sitting, and did not fly until preparations for climbing the tree had commenced. The nest was in quite an exposed situation amongst scant twigs on a horizontal branch. It is composed of small loosely laid dry twigs, and a shallow receptacle lined with fibre and horsehair”

Mr. Bancroft (1930) says of the nesting “The breeding habits of the Xantus Jay, however, are unlike those of the other races of its family, partly through choice and partly from necessity. Nearly all the nests we found were in the arrow tree whose dense growth of leaves afforded a maximum of concealment. The nest is usually in the heart of the foliage, six to ten feet above the ground. It consists of a foundation of fine twigs which support a scmispherical cup. The foundation may be scanty or it may be quite pretentious, according to the requirements of its location. The cup is thin and neatly woven. It is composed of fine rootlets, tree yucca fibres, or cow-hair. It may be of one material only or the three may be used together. It is stiff enough to maintain its shape; the foundation merely serves to hold it in place”

Nesting dates seem to differ considerably in different parts of the peninsula, for J. Stuart Rowley (1935) says: “My notes show that on the last of April along the shore of Concepcion Bay on the Gulf, many nests of this jay were found, and without exception all contained newly hatched young. Then, after crossing the peninsula to the Llano de Yrais on the pacific slope, no nests were found occupied, but young were flying about in nearly full plumage (specimen of such juvenal collected there). When we reached Miraflores, in the Cape district, nesting activities were just beginning and from May 10 to 19, inclusive, at this locality eight sets of two eggs each and five sets of three eggs were taken. * * * To the northward, at San Ignacio, only one nest was found to hold even eggs, three fresh being taken on April 27; the majority of birds were apparently just building here”

One of the sets, now in the Doe collection, was taken by Mr. Rowley from a nest placed in the center of cardon growth 6 feet up.

Eggs: Two or three eggs seem to be the usual complement for Xantus’s jay, and oftener two than three constitute a full set. Mr. Rowley (1935) located over 50 occupied nests and never found more than three eggs or young in a nest, and he thinks three are “rather uncommon”

Major Bendire (1895) says that the two eggs in the United States National Museum, taken by Xantus in 1860, “have a pale bluish-green ground color and are spotted over the entire surface with small markings of grayish brown, which are slightly heavier about the larger end of the egg. The eggs are ovate in shape and slightly glossy”

Mr. Bancroft (1930) says tbat “laying begins in April, two eggs being the usual number. Reversing the customary order, as the season progresses the size of the clutch increases until, in June, we found three more often than two. That number represents the largest set of which we have knowledge. The eggs differ from those of any other subspecies of the California Jay in averaging a very much greener background and in being marked with decidedly finer spots”

Mr. Doe tells me that the eggs referred to above are “very dark emerald green, obscurely spotted with gray brown”

The measurements of 50 eggs average 27.2 by 20.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 30.1 by 22.8, 23.4 by 17.8, and 26.8 by 13.5 millimeters.


Woodhouse’s jay has long stood on our list as a distinct species and was originally described as such. There are some reasons for thinking that the original designation may be more nearly correct than the present concept as a subspecies. Mr. Swarth (1918) says: “Compared with any of the subspecies of Aphelocoma californica, A. woodhousei differs in coloration and in proportions of bill. The blue areas are dull and pale, the back is strongly suffused with bluish gray, and the under parts and throat with gray; the under tail coverts are blue. The general effect of these modifications is to produce a much more uniformly and inconspicuously marked bird than A. calijornica. The bill of woodhousei averages longer than in californica, but is more slender.” Believing this jay to be a distinct species, he says: “The range of the Woodhouse jay in California is restricted to scattered and disconnected areas of Upper Sonoran in the Inyo region, the arid desert section of the eastern part of the state. In the late summer and fall it is a visitant to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, where it comes into direct contact with A. c. smntanls, but it apparently does not breed in this section.” He claims further that, although there is intergradation between the three California races where their habitats meet, “nothing of the sort can be detected along the boundary between immanis and woodhousei”; and he says that “comparison of three California specimens at hand in fresh fall plumage, with individuals taken at the same season in southern Arizona, shows no difference between the two birds”

According to the 1931 Check-list, the wide range of Woodhouse’s jay extends from “southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho, and southern Wyoming south to southeastern California (east of Sierra Nevada), southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and southwestern Texas”

Woodhouse’s jay is a bird of the foothills and the lower slopes of the mountains. In Arizona we found it rather local in its distribution, mainly in the oak belts about the bases of the mountains and on the steep, brush-covered hillsides; we never saw it below 3,000 or above 7,500 feet, but noted it mostly between 5,000 and 6,000 feet. We first saw it about the base of the Mule Mountains, where the blackjack oaks grew thickly in the little valleys and gorges or were scattered over the opener hillsides. About our camp in the foothills of the Dragoon Mountains, where blackjack and other oaks dotted the gently sloping hills and grew more densely in the brush-covered gulches well up into the mountains, these jays were really common. But they were very shy. We frequently saw them flying ahead of us or sailing from one oak to another, with blue wings and tail widespread, or heard their squawking cries, but to shoot one was another matter; a long shot at one on the wing obtained my only specimen.

In New Mexico, according to Mrs. Bailey (1928), this jay is widely distributed “among the nut pines, junipers, and scrub oaks of Upper Sonoran zone.” Dr. Coues (1874) says that its preference “is for oak openings, rough, broken hill-sides, covered with patches of juniper, manzaiiita, and yuccas, brushy ravines and wooded creek-bottoms.” Dr. Jean M. Linsdale (1938b) says that, in Nevada, “resident Woodhouse jay was found regularly in small numbers about every locality worked, from a little over 6,000 feet, near the base of the mountains, up to about 9,000 feet on the ridges. Individuals or family groups were found in the thickets of willow and birch along the streams and in the piilons and mountain mahoganies on the adjacent slopes and ridges”

In Colorado these jays range from 6,000 up to 9,000 feet, where Robert B. Rockwell (1907) says that “their favorite haunt is a gulch on an open hillside, which is heavily covered with scrub-oak, service-berry and pinyon, and here they are found in numbers, flitting thru the underbrush and keeping out of sight as much as possible, but continually uttering the coarse, grating cry characteristic of so many of this family”

Nesting: We did not succeed in finding a nest of Woodhouse’s jay in Arizona; they are said to be very well concealed, and probably we overlooked some, which might easily happen, as Robert B. Rockwell (1907) says that “in the location and concealment of the nests they are evidently adepts, as in five years’ observations I found but two nests, one of which was unoccupied”; and this was in a locality in western Colorado, where the birds were abundant.

He describes the finding of his nest as follows:

As my pony brushed against a peculiarly thick climp of service-berry I heard a very slight flutter and not seeing a bird fly out, I dismounted and forced my way into the clump. As I did so the bird slipped quietly out on the other side and I caught a fleeting glimpse of her as she flew, barely a foot off the ground, into a nearby bush.

The nest, for such it proved to be, was built near the center of the clump and about four feet from the ground. It was held in place by a thick net-work of small angular twigs and two larger vertical branches none over ~ inch in diameter. The only concealment afforded the nest was the thick mat of leaves at the extremity of the branches which formed a sort of canopy about the exterior of the bush, not a leaf being near enough to the nest to afford concealment; but right here is where I discovered the secret of their concealment. The outer structure of course so nearly resembles the network of small twigs in the serviceberry bush that it was difficult to tell where the nest stopped and the twigs began.

The nest itself, which at first appeared to be a rather fragile structure, upon closer examination proved to be a remarkable piece of bird architecture. It was composed of a platform of very crooked dead twigs, thickly interlaced to form a basket-like structure, in which the nest proper was firmly placed. The latter. which was entirely separate from the outer basket was a beautifully woven and interlaced cup, composed of fine weed stalks on the outside, giving place to fine. brown, fibrous rootlets toward the interior which was sparingly lined witl’ horsehair.

In general appearance the exterior was not unlike the nest of the white-rumped shrike, while the interior or nest proper closely resembled a black-beaded grosbeak’s nest. The entire structure, while not particularly artistic, exhibited a high grade of bird architecture and was remarkably strong and durable.

The nest outside measured about six inches in diameter by six inches in depth, and the interior structure measured outside 4’/z inches in diameter by 2~4 inches deep; inside 3~ inches in diameter by 2’A inches deep.

Dr. Linsdale (1938b) thus records two Nevada nests: “An occupied nest of this bird was found on June 4, 1932, on the top of a ridge, at 9,000 feet, near Wisconsin Creek (Orr). A jay was seen to slip away through mountain mahoganies and pifions. About 100 feet from there and 30 feet down a south-facing slope a nest was found in a pifion. It was 7 feet above the ground, resting on the outer part of a limb and supported by small twigs. The outer part of the nest which was 10 inches in diameter was composed of small and medium-sized twigs of sage brush. The inner part was 5 inches in diameter and 21/2 inches deep. It was composed of fine grass stems and lined with porcupine hair”

The other nest, from which the young had just flown, was found “in a mountain mahogany, 5 feet above the ground, on the east side of the tree and on a southeast-facing slope. The nest was about 9 inches in diameter and was composed of small twigs. The cup was 5 inches in diameter and an inch deep. It was made of small grass stems and horsehair”

There are three sets of eggs of Woodhouse’s jay in my collection, all from Utah. Two were placed in sagebushes, one 4 feet and the other 20 inches above ground. The other was placed in a young pine next to the trunk and about 6 feet from the ground. The construction of the nests was similar to that of those recorded above from Nevada. Frank W. Braund tells me that he has a nest in his collection, taken on a cactus desert in Arizona, that was 4 feet up in a white cholla cactus. There are two nests in the Thayer collection in Cambridge; one was 5 feet up in a scrub oak, lined with black horsehair; the other was 6 feet from the ground in a cedar, lined with fine grass.

Eggs: Woodhouse’s jay lays anywhere from three to six eggs to a set, but oftener four or five. They are mostly ovate in shape, with variations toward short-ovate or elliptical-ovate. They are only slightly glossy. The ground color is light bluish green, “bluish glaucous,” “pea green,” or pale “sage green.” They are more or less evenly marked with various shades of brown, pale shades of “ferruginous” or “tawny,” in small blotches, spots or fine dots, and sometimes with a few underlying spots of pale drabs. The measurements of 50 eggs average 27.8 by 20.4 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 31.0 by 21.5 and 24.3 by 19.2 millimeters.

Young: Bendire (1895) says that “incubation lasts about sixteen days, both parents probably assisting; and I think that but one brood is raised in a season.” Dr. Linsdale (1938b) found a family of four young birds near one of the nests described above. “Both parents,” he says, “were present, and they were feeding the young ones. During this process the adult made no sound, but feeding calls were uttered by the young. Once when a young one was preparing to fly to one of its parents following the other, a slight movement by the observer resulted in a sharp call from a parent jay. Following this the young bird remained perfectly quiet for about a minute. It then began to move about, but another warning call caused it again to become silent”

Mr. Rockwell (1907) says: “The young of the year are not very much in evidence until they are well matured, but during August and September by which time the young are all able to take care of themselves the birds are particularly conspicuous and noisy. * * * As soon as the young birds are able to travel there seems to be a sort of vertical migration, during which large numbers of the birds ascend a few thousand feet into the heavier timbered country.” But, he continues, “this vertical movement does not affect the entire number of the species”

Plumages: The plumage changes of Woodhouse’s jay are apparently similar to those of the California jay. But the juvenal plumage seems to be somewhat different, which Ridgway (1904) describes as follows: “Pileum plain mouse gray; rest of upper parts (except wings and tail) plain brownish gray or deep drab-gray; an indistinct superciliary line, or series of streaks, of white; general color of under parts dull light brownish gray, paler on chin, throat, chest, and abdomen, deeper and more brownish on upper portion of breast, against pale grayish jugular area; wings and tail as in adults, but smaller wing-coverts gray and lesser coverts indistinctly tipped with the same”

Food: Like its neighbors and relatives in California, Woodhouse’s jay is quite omnivorous, and its food covers the same wide range. Where oaks and nut pines, or pinyons, are abundant, the fruits of these trees evidently make up the largest percentage of the food of this jay at the proper seasons. During the summer it is said to feed somewhat on grasshoppers and other insects. Mrs. Bailey (1928) says that “in some of the few stomachs examined, three-quarters of the food consists of pinyon nuts. Acorns, wheat, ground beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and ants are also eaten.” This jay probably has the same bad habit as other jays of robbing small birds of their eggs and young, though perhaps not to such an extent as the California jay. Mr. Rockwell (1907) says: “I have never seen any indications of this and judging from the good feeling which apparently exists between these birds and other species I am inclined to think that their depredations are not as extensive as those of others of the jay family”

Behavior: Based on my rather limited experience with it in the field, I should say that this is the shiest, most secretive, and most elusive of all the jays that I have seen in life. Even in its favorite haunts, where these jays are common, one is seldom seen except at a distance or as a fleeting blue shadow disappearing through the underbrush. We often saw one perched in an alert attitude on the top of some blackjack oak; but, if we attempted to approach, it bobbed its head and body, gave its harsh cry of alarm, and bounded off to a more distant tree; within about 50 yards was as near as we could come to it on the more open slopes. In the ravines and gulches, where the trees and bushes grew more thickly, we could get a closer view of it, hut only for an instant. as it made an abrupt dive downward from its observation perch and faded away through the brushy tangle, not to be seen again.

The facile pen of Dr. Coues (1874) describes its flight and other movements much better than I can, as follows: “The flight of the bird is firm and direct. When going far, and high over head, in flocks, the wing beats are regular and continuous; among trees and bushes, the short flights are more dashing and unsteady, performed with a vigorous flap or two and a sailing with widely-spread wings and tail. The tail is often jerked in the shorter flights, especially those of ascent or the reverse, and its frequent motion, when the bird is not flying, is like that seen in Pipilo or Mi~mus. Among the branches the bird moves with agile hops, like all true Jays, and its movements when on the ground have the same buoyant ease; it never walks, like Maximilian’s and other Crows”

Dr. Walter P. Taylor writes to me: “Mr. Colton, proprietor of a store at Grand Canyon, has a tame jay that he has been feeding for four years. He whistles in a certain way, and the bird flies either direct to his hand or to a nearby tree, from which it then flies to his hand. The jay stands on the hand, picking up pinyon nuts until it gets five or less. Five is the maximum. It then flies off down over the edge of the Grand Canyon with its load, returning, if called, about 10 minutes later. It ate not only from Colton’s hand but also from Gilchrist’s and mine”

Voice: Dr. Coues (1874) gives the following attractive account of the vocal ability of this jay:

The ordinary note is a harsh scream, indefinitely repeated with varying tone and measure; it is quite noticeably different from that of either Maximilian’s or Steller’s, having a sharp, wiry quality lacking in these. It is always uttered when the bird is angry or alarmed, and consequently is oftener heard by the naturalist; but there are several other notes. If the bird is disporting with his fellows, or leisurely picking acorns, he has a variety of odd chuckling or chattering syllables, corresponding to the absurd talk of our Blue Jay under the same circumstances. Sometimes again, in the spring-time, when snugly hidden in the heart of a cedar bush with his mate, whom he has coaxed to keep him company, he modulates his harsh voice with surprising softness to express his gallant intention; and if one is standing quite near, unobserved, he will hear the blandishments whispered and cooed almost as softly as a Dove’s. The change, when the busy pair find they are discovered, to the ordinary scream, uttered by wooer and wooed together, is startling.

Field marks: Superficially, Woodhouse’s jay looks and acts much like the California jay, and its voice is similar; but its coloration is much more uniform, appearing largely dull bluish gray, with less contrast between the brown of the back and the blue of the wings and tail. The under parts are much grayer, less whitish, and the blue of the flight feathers is duller.

Fall: This jay is supposed to be nonmigratory, and it probably is mainly resident throughout the year over most of its range. Extensive fall wanderings in search of a food supply might easily be mistaken for true migration. Aiken and Warren (1914) report: “When Aiken was at his ranch on Turkey Creek in October, 1873, a migratory flight of Woodhouse’s Jays was seen. They were not flying high, but making short flights from point to point, always in a southerly direction. It was estimated that there were at least 500 scattered over from 50 to 100 acres of ground, as they kept lighting after their short flights. After this flight had passed the species seemed to be fully as common during the following winter as it had been during the summer. The flight had undoubtedly come from a more northern locality. Local birds appear to he non-migratory and are found in the same localities throughout the year.” Mr. Rockwell (1907) writes: “With the first frosts they congregate in small scattered flocks and perform whatever migration may be credited to them, which I am inclined to think amounts to very little, usually before the first big storm; but climatic conditions seem to have very little effect upon them, food supply alone being responsible for their migratory movements”

Winter: Referring to their winter habits in Colorado, Mr. Rockwell (1907) says: “When the winter coat of white has entirely covered their food on the bleak hillsides, they return to their winter haunts nearer the inhabited sections where the waste from barn-yard and granary affords an abundant food supply until spring comes again.

“During the winter months they are found in large numbers in the brush-clad gulches and ravines in the lower part of their range and usually not far from cultivated ground, where they feed largely upon grain and seed in the barn-yards, feedlots and fields. During this period they become very tame if not molested and will even occasionally slip into an open kitchen door in quest of some tempting morsel”


This race seems to be confined to central and central-western Texas, from Kerr and Edwards Counties to the Davis Mountains. It is a connecting link between A. c. woodhousei and A. c. cyanotis, intergrading with the former to the northward and with the latter to the southward. The blue-eared jay (cyanotis) was formerly supposed to occur casually in Texas, but subsequent investigation by Dr. Oberholser (1917) has shown this to be an error, and this race was dropped from our list.

The Texas jay differs from Woodhouse’s jay in having the chest and lower throat very indistinctly, if at all, streaked with blue, by the paler gray of the under parts, and by the pure white under tail coverts, the latter being blue in woodhousei.

The type of this race was collected near the head of the Nueces River, in Edwards County, Tex., presumably by Howard Lacey (1903), who says: “In December, 1894, when deer hunting on the head of the Nueces Ricer, I shot and skinned one of these birds and sent it to the professor [H. P. Attwater]. He sent it on, I believe, to the late Captain Bendire, and it is now the type of the species.” Attwater was credited with collecting the specimen.

Mr. Lacey was, evidently, the first to collect the eggs of this jay; in April 1898, near the head of one of the main branches of the Guadaloupe River. He says of the locality:

Numerous little valleys run down toward the rivers, becoming steeper and steeper as they approach the larger creek, and often forming narrow canyons with high bluffs on both sides. Large trees are not numerous, but the whole face of the country is covered with clumps of shin oak and scrubby live oak. In these clumps we found the jays’ nests, generally placed near the outside of a thicket, at froni four to six feet from the ground, and often conspicuous from quite a distance, as the shrubs were only beginning to put out their leaves at that time. As a rule the birds were setting and one nest contained young nearly ready to leave it. The nests were composed of an outer basket of twigs not very firmly put together, and lined rather neatly with grass, hair, and small root fibres. They were rather snore bulky than mockingbirds’ nests and the inner nest was saucer shaped rather than cup shaped. Most of them were placed in shin oaks, but some few were in live oaks, and I have since found several in cedar bushes. The birds are not so noisy as the common blue jay and are particularly silent when near their nests.

They have a habit of hopping upwards through a thicket from twig to twig until they arrive at the to~ of it, when they fly off with four or five harsh squeaks to the next clump of brush, into which they dive headlong.

Austin Paul Smith (1916) has this to say about the Texas jay:

This very local form keeps well within the Upper Sonoran, except on occasions when it descends to the streams to drink, mostly after dry weather has set in; but it quickly returns to its natural haunt: hillsides covered with a mixed growth of cedar and oak. It was found to congregate in flocks, even during the breeding season which, as Lacey has correctly stated, occupies late March and early April, so perhaps only a portion of its numbers nest annually. The Texan Jay while affecting a varied diet is very fond of the acorns of the Spanish and shin oaks. searching these out and eating them after they have sprouted. Until the plumage of this Jay is much worn, it closely resembles A. woodhousei, for the brown on the back is much obscured by a slaty cast in the fresh plumage while many of the adults have the under tail coverts strongly tinged with blue.

The measurements of 44 eggs average 27.0 by 20.4 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 31.0 by 21.3, 26.0 by 21.5, 23.4 by 18.7, and 23.6 by 18.6 millimeters.


About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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