Scrub Jays

Scrub Jays are part of the crow family of birds (corvids). It’s in the genus Aphelocoma that you’ll find all the birds we know as Scrub Jays, along with other closely related species.

In the US there are four Scrub Jay species.

All are found in the western US, besides the Florida Scrub Jay.

The Florida Scrub Jay is an endangered species due to extensive habitat loss. It needs a certain type of habitat – as it’s name suggests, this is a scrub-sandy habitat ecosystem which has been extensively lost throughout Florida. They also need a large territory so small patches of habitat are rarely suitable for Florida Scrub Jays.

If you’ve been wanting to “scrub up” on your Scrub Jay knowledge – and they are a fascinating group of birds – let’s start with the four species found in North America:

Scrub Jay Range Maps – North America

Island Scrub Jay – endemic to Santa Cruz Island (southern California)
Aphelocoma insularis
This is the biggest Scrub Jay and darkest colored of these four species. Although it has a tiny restricted range only on Santa Cruz Island, you can find it across almost the entire island in the right woodland habitats.

California Scrub Jay – west coast of North America
Aphelocoma californica

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay – Inland western USA
Aphelocoma woodhouseii

Florida Scrub Jay – Central-southern Florida
Aphelocoma coerulescens

What do Scrub Jays sound like?

Scrub jays are very vocal birds and have a wide range of calls. If you live within the range of a scrub kay species and you’re familiar with their sounds (this can take some time), you’ll soon find yourself detecting their presence when you otherwise wouldn’t have known they were around.

Some of the most common scrub jay vovalizations include:

Weep A high-pitched, scratchy call that is often repeated in quick succession. This call is used for a variety of purposes, including to communicate with other jays, to warn of predators, and to attract mates.

A harsh, rasping call often used to mob predators or other unwanted birds.

Bell-like shlenk
A short and clear call that’s used to communicate with other jays.

Quiet kuk
A soft call exchanged between mates.

Guttural growl
A low-pitched guttural aggression call.

There are other types of sounds to listen out for too:

Wing beats: Scrub jays make a distinct whooshing sound when they fly.
Bill clacks: Scrub jays often clack their beak mandibles together to make a sharp rapping sound.
Hiccup: When alarmed, females make a rapid mechanical “hiccup” sound while bobbing up and down with their bill pointed up.

Scrub jays calls are used to warn of predators, to attract mates, to defend their territory, and to coordinate their activities.

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