Western Scrub Jay – Smart Bird Brain


The Western Scrub Jay’s are very smart and friendly! You may have often seen them flitting around your backyard. Scrub Jays are very crafty and are known to steal food from other birds. Studies show that Scrub Jays are the only non-primate to be able to plan ahead for the future, which before was thought to only be a human trait. Other studies show they have highly accurate memories which enables them to be able remember up to 200 food caches, along with what the food item is, and its deterioration rate. Western Scrub Jays are know to steal and hoard food, they perform many strategies to prevent their food from being stolen by other birds. These mischievous birds have been caught stealing acorns from woodpecker caches, and stealing seeds they have watched other Jays hide. When they are hiding their own stash of food they will first look around and make sure no other bird is watching. If they were being watched, they will hide the food in a temporary spot, and then when no one is looking, go back and re-hide the food in a new location. Scrub Jays diet consists of eggs and young from other birds, grains, nuts, berries, fruit, vegetables growing in backyards, lizards, insects, and frogs. They will also stand on the back of mule deer eating parasites and ticks off of them. The deer will often stand still and hold up their ears to give the bird better access, and seem to appreciate this service.

Scrub Jays are cousins to the Blue Jay. They are a nonmigratory bird and in general they have a blue head, wings and tail, with a gray-brown back, and grayish underparts. These birds are medium sized, and are approximately 11.5 inches in length from head to tail, with a wingspan of 15 inches, and typically weigh around 80g. Both male and females look alike. Their call is often described as “harsh and scratchy”.

These birds are sociable and fun to watch. They love peanuts in the shell, and can be coaxed to take them from your hand. But be warned if you are not prompt in feeding them, they will scold you for being late! If you put up a in-shell peanut feeder, they will do all sorts of acrobats to try to free the peanuts from the feeder! Making them a delight to watch. They will free the peanuts and then carry them off to another location to hide. Try placing a birdbath next to a window and enjoy watching them bathe, they aren’t shy! Jays hide many more acorns than they can eat, which makes them helpful in regenerating oak forests that have been ruined by drought or fire.

Like their name, the Western Scrub Jay lives in western North America, commonly west of the Rocky Mountains. Including southern Washington to central Mexico. And is often called the California Jay or Long-tailed Jay. Dwelling in areas of low scrub, forests, coastal regions, and suburban areas. and are a very common west of the Rocky Mountains. Typically, (not always) dwelling in regions lower and dryer than Stellar Jays. The average life span for these birds is 9 years, and the oldest know Western Scrub Jay was 15.75 years old.

Scrub Jays usually hunt and live in pairs or small groups (family and non-family). Western Scrub Jays are mainly monogamous, and both male and female help raise offspring, often assisted by non-breeding helper males and females. Scrub Jays build their nests in low trees or bushes, any where from 3-30 feet off the ground. Nests are primarily built by the female, and the male mainly guards and protects the nest. Typically nests are 13-23 inches in diameter and are sturdily built of twigs, dry grass, moss, and lined with fine roots and hair. Scrub Jays lay two to seven eggs anywhere from March through July. Egg shells are either light green with olive colored spots, or pale gray to green with reddish-brown spots. The incubation period for eggs are about 16 days, and fledglings are ready to leave the nest about 18 days after hatching. The female incubates the eggs, and the male feeds the female while she is incubating. These birds often make a lot of racket, so you can tell when these bird has eggs, because it become conspicuously quite!

I had a faithful one legged Scrub Jay friend for about 7 years who sat on my fence and would watch me for long stretches of time each time I was in the yard. He was great company and was greatly missed when he eventually passed on. Now I have several more bird friends who keep me company, and will make racket when their food runs out. They aren’t shy to tell me I am late! Attracting Western Scrub Jays to your yard is easy, rewarding and entertaining. Try setting out a peanut bird feeder and a birdbath and start enjoying these lovely birds.