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The Western Scrub-Jay: One Smart Backyard Visitor

Updated on January 23, 2016
Western Scrub-Jay
Western Scrub-Jay | Source

The Bird Calls Were Frantic

One morning, I was in the house when I heard loud bird calls coming from the backyard. I had no idea what type of bird it was, but it sounded very close. I went outside to see if I could figure out where the sounds were coming from. I didn't see any birds so I went back inside the house.

A few minutes later, I heard it again. I was determined to figure out the source. I looked up at the fence and the trees but found nothing. Then, something caught my eye closer to the ground on the trunk of the small pine tree.

I got a little closer and realized it was a Western Scrub-Jay. What the heck was it doing down there? I was worried about it being so low on the ground. Was it injured? I began to fret a bit over how I would capture it if it was. I pictured a very scared bird fluttering out of my reach and pine needles stuck in my hair.

Platform Feeder for Jays and Larger Birds

Woodlink Going Green Platform Bird Feeder Model GGPLAT
Woodlink Going Green Platform Bird Feeder Model GGPLAT

This is the type of feeder that you need for Jays. It is meant to hold the weight and size of larger birds. The big sized tray fits their larger appetite, too!

Our visitor was sitting in an unusual place
Our visitor was sitting in an unusual place | Source

Three Jays to Choose From

Which Jay do you like best?

See results

From My Avian Observation Deck

Also known as the patio.

I thought about moving closer, but decided not to. I knew if I scared the poor bird and it was injured, I'd make things worse. And then, I'd feel really bad. It was best that I find out what this bird's situation was before I terrified it with my actions.

Not one to pass up a chance at using my camera, I hurried inside to get it. I pulled a garden chair over to the edge of the cement. It was far enough away from the bird so as not to scare it. I sat there and I waited.

A couple of minutes went by before the bird began to hop around. I wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not.

I'm so glad that I decided to wait it out. My little friend wasn't injured. Judging from the small tufts of downy feathers sticking out on the side, this was a juvenile that hadn't quite got the hang of flying.

For the next few minutes, I watched it walk around the tree. Then, it worked it's way to the planter box and jumped up. It's as if it decided it was time to get off the ground.

There was much fluttering of wings and calls to parents as it hopped along the edge of the wood. I think my feathered friend knew where it was going and how it was going to get there.

It has worked its way around the planters
It has worked its way around the planters | Source

A Very Clever Bird

I kept taking pictures as I watched. The Jay hopped along the edge of the small box, then kind of flew up to the larger box.

It got to the end of the large planter box. It seemed to ponder its predicament for a bit. Then, you won't believe what it did next! It hopped/flew to the ground, walked over to the tall hydrangea plant, and jumped in.

For the next few minutes my avian McGyver worked its way up the 6 foot tall hydrangea. When it got to fence level, it jumped over. The Jay walked across the fence, took a flying leap, and landed on a branch in our maple tree.

From there it was home free. I saw it move around the branches until it was completely hidden. I am not sure if there was a nest up there, but it was in a safe place. I couldn't see the bird at all!

"Hey, I made it to the top!  Now what do I do?"
"Hey, I made it to the top! Now what do I do?" | Source

Want to attract them to your garden?

Some folks find Jays to be a nuisance, but I think they are neat, if not a bit noisy. I don't mind their visits at all.

Western Scrub-Jays can be attracted by a common San Francisco Bay Area garden plant, the juniper. They love the berries.

Jays in general love acorns, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. Make sure your feeder has one or all of these.

They also love suet. You can even make your own suet!

Random Facts about Jays

In the spring and summer, it is common to see the Western Scrub-Jay in the San Francisco Bay Area in our suburban gardens. It is a cousin to the Stellar's Jay and the Blue Jay. They are somewhat thin with a long tail. They are about the same size as Robins. The face, head, back, wings, and tail are a deep blue. The chest and the middle area of the back are light gray. The throat is white. They have thin white coloring around their eyes, too

Once they mate, the pair will stay together throughout that year. They lay up to 5 eggs at time and only nest once a year. The incubation period is about 17 days. Their babies are gray. Their average life span is 9 years.

Their diet varies depending on the time of year. In spring, they live on fruit and insects. In fall, they switch to seeds and nuts. They will raid nests and eat the baby birds they find there. Other small animals like lizards are a part of their diet as well.

Jays are not timid bird. You'll find it being quite assertive especially when other birds are around. They are not much impressed with humans.

They have fairly good memories. They not only remember where they store food, but where other birds have stored theirs. This comes in handy because they are well known thieves.

Attracts Jays and Other Song Birds

Wagner's 62008 Western Regional Blend, 20-Pound Bag
Wagner's 62008 Western Regional Blend, 20-Pound Bag

This blend is designed for bird populations in Western states. It contains sunflower seeds which Jays love.


The Three Western Scrub-Jays and Their Range

California Western Scrub-Jay
Washington, Oregon, California, and Mexico
Sumichrast's Scrub-Jay
Southern Mexico
Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay
Nevada, New Mexico, California, and Northern Mexico
These Jays are known to the Western United States and Mexico. They can be found year round. They do not migrate.

Follow the Jay along the way

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The bird starts its adventureMade it from the small planter box to the large oneDead end...where does it go now?A difficult climb, all the way to the top of the tall hydrangeaIt pulls a McGyver and jumps to the fenceFinally our friend has made it to the tree
The bird starts its adventure
The bird starts its adventure | Source
Made it from the small planter box to the large one
Made it from the small planter box to the large one | Source
Dead end...where does it go now?
Dead end...where does it go now? | Source
A difficult climb, all the way to the top of the tall hydrangea
A difficult climb, all the way to the top of the tall hydrangea | Source
It pulls a McGyver and jumps to the fence
It pulls a McGyver and jumps to the fence | Source
Finally our friend has made it to the tree
Finally our friend has made it to the tree | Source

Just how intelligent are they?

Did This Bird Solve a Problem?

If you had told me that this bird was going to plot how to get back up in the maple tree, I'd have told you that you've watched too many Looney Tunes cartoons. ACME doesn't deliver to my house. I truly had to see it to believe it. Scientific studies show more and more that birds, especially in the group that includes Crows and Jays, have gotten a bad reputation when it comes to their intelligence. They are smarter than we give them credit for.

I'm convince saw its predicament and figured a way out of it. How else can we explain its deliberate movements around the garden? That hydrangea is about 6 feet tall. It wouldn't be easy for someone without hands to climb it.

There's a viral video on the web showing a bird playing with a ball that it found. Studies have shown that birds recall where they've hidden food and fashion tools to help them get at food. It doesn't seem far fetched that a clever Jay might be able to size up the layout of the yard and plan its best escape route.

Attract Them With Suet

There are Times We Shouldn't Interfere with Nature

During breeding season, animal shelters and wildlife rescue facilities are inundated with baby birds that well intentioned people bring in. What they think is a distressed orphan is really a bird whose parents are close by and in control. Too many times they believe an animal to be injured or ill, when all the animal really needs is a few minutes to collect itself. They end up separating babies from parents. These birds that really don't need rescuing end up burdening those places set up to help out.

It's best to use caution before we interfere with wildlife. We can do more damage than good in some cases. Rather than acting rashly, if you feel an animal may need help, call your local wildlife center to see what the proper plan of action is. Often times, the bird is young and not fully fledged, but well taken care of by its parents even if it has fallen out of the nest. Keep a close eye, but only step in if absolutely necessary. Your actions could do more harm than good.

© 2014 Melody Lassalle


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    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      3 years ago from California

      Glenn, Thanks for your comment! I'm glad you enjoyed my experience with the jay. I was very fortunate that it stayed around long enough that I could witness it's thinking in process. I would have never thought a bird would be so smart as to plan a way out of a predicament. I've got a lot to learn.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I enjoyed following along as you observed the actions of your little feathered friend finding its way. You presented the scenario so well that I felt I was right there with you. And it was great how you were ready with your camera to get it all recorded in pictures. That truly adds a full dimension to the experience.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Paperfacets, I've never seen orioles in the SF Bay Area. Jays are everywhere, though we don't get the Stellar Jay's that are so prominent in the Sierra's. Thanks for your comments!

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      4 years ago from La Verne, CA

      This year we have had the hooded oriole in La Verne for the first time ever. I know the scrub jay is prevalent SoCal but have not seen them.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Cam8510, I used to get annoyed at crows for all their noise making. But, I've learned that crows are especially intelligent in ways that we have yet to even figure out. I was reading recently that they plan out each day's hunt for food and have different calls to communicate different things. We have a lot to learn, don't we? Thanks for your comments!

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Mel, We have several Western Scrubs in our neighborhood. They are many big trees so you may be right about their preference. I have to tell you my attention was completely captivated that day and I'm convinced it had thought through where it was going and how it was going to get there. Thanks for your comments!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

      Melody, I thoroughly enjoyed your account of this little fellows adventure. The whole corvid family is remarkable. Fyi, I've just written an article as well as a two part short story that feature the crow. It was a fascinating study. Nice job on your article here.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 years ago from San Diego California

      We have these Scrubs down here in San Diego too, but they have not colonized my neighborhood yet because I believe they like neighborhoods that are slightly on the older side that have trees with thick foliage. I love all of the jays and their cousins the crows, and I am never one to demean avian intelligence. Great hub!

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Steve, we have one that has been visiting our yard this week. Yesterday, I heard it making noise and decided to see what it was up to. It flew over to the same small pine tree in my photos. It had a piece of food in it's beak. It hoped down to the lower branch, crawled up inside, then flew back out to the fence--without the piece of food. It's using our tree for its storage place! No wonder it has been around so much.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      The Western Scrub-Jay is certainly a smart bird with an attitude. I always enjoy watching them.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Elsie, Crows can be like that. I've watched them go after other birds in flight. They tend to work in twos and threes though. I looked up the Tui bird as I've never seen one before. What a beautiful bird! It's very unusual looking.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      In answer to your reply about (neat birds in my garden in NZ), you are right at the moment I'm watching a very bossy Tui attacking any bird, (no matter how big or small it is),that comes near the Kowhia Tree which is in full spring bloom.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      MarleneB, I am the same way. I can't sit by and see an animal in trouble. It took considerable self control to not rush over to check on it.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      4 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed reading your story about the Western Scrub-Jay. My instincts would be to rush in to help the bird, but your advice tells me it is better to wait and then call in the professionals who would know better than me what to do.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Ecogranny, I am glad you enjoyed the pictures! I don't think we give animals nearly enough credit. We gauge intelligence by our own markers, but I don't think that is fair. Some of those animals might look at us, look a some of the things that we do (like go to war), and think we're the dumb ones.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      I was wondering where all the pictures were! Thank you for sharing them at the end. Yes, not only do I believe many birds have a lot more intelligence than we previously thought, but science is discovering--and proving that to be true--nearly every day. One day, we humans may finally realize just how narrow-minded we have been about the creatures with whom we share this planet.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 

      4 years ago from India

      Blue jays are fascinating...

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Thank you Elsie! I feel fortunate to have been able to watch it all unfold. You never know what you'll see in your own backyard! I bet your have your own neat birds in NZ ;)

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      Enjoyed your article a very pretty bird, you were lucky to get those nice photos, we don't have them in NZ.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Pawpawwrites, it's so easy to be dismissive with animals. I live with a Jack Russell Terrier and I'm pretty sure at times she is smarter than me.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Thank you, OldRoses! Aren't they beautiful birds? All of the Jays are striking.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      chef-de-jour, You are right about the challenges baby birds face. I think that is why we are sometimes overprotective and overreact when we find them out of the nest. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      teaches12345, I suspect the scrub jays are just as annoying as the blue jays. They are pretty noisy birds especially when they want everyone to know they are around.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Boutiqueshops, I don't know. Jays are so aggressive that I wouldn't think anything would bother them. We also have mockingbirds in this area, but they only make themselves known during breeding season. And then, it's usually in the middle of the night.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Thank you Phyllis! Both the crows and jays are so fascinating to watch. I enjoyed hearing about your scrub jay that hides the peanuts. It probably has a nice stash.

    • Pawpawwrites profile image


      4 years ago from Kansas

      Animals are smarter than we give them credit for. I've taken a seat to watch nature in our yard too. Thanks for sharing this.

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 

      4 years ago

      What fun you had watching that young bird. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I love watching birds. We have blue jays here in NJ. I love their gorgeous markings. Voted up and shared.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      What a wonderful adventure this young bird had. Nicely captured by you for us to share. Thank you.

      Such a beautiful blue - you're very lucky to have this jay in your garden. I enjoyed the story. Young birds have a great challenge growing up, they have to learn as they stumble along, much like us I guess.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      What a pretty bird. If it is not as annoying as the blue jay, I would love to have one in my backyard. Thanks for sharing such a sweet background on this lovely little bird.

    • boutiqueshops profile image


      4 years ago from Corpus Christi, Texas

      I'm not familiar with these birds, but they are beautiful. I wonder if maybe the mockingbirds (equally bold and loud) don't make good neighbors for jays in South Texas? You can hardly go a city block without seeing at least two mockingbirds where I live. :)

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Melody. I love to watch the many birds around my home. The crows and scrub jays are very clever and interesting. When I throw out unsalted peanuts in the shell for the squirrels, there is always at least one scrub jay that collects the peanuts, one at a time, and flies to the little mountain nearby to bury it. I enjoyed reading your informative hub. Your little jay is very clever and I love the way you followed him with pictures and figured out his plan. What a smart little guy ! Great hub. Voted up, interesting and H+

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Aviannovice, thank you for the book recommendation. I will have to check it out. The crows are fascinating birds as well. It's easy to pass them over because where I live there are many. But, they are very smart birds. I'm intrigued by the fact that they can make so many sounds. They really have a wide range of vocalizations (and at least they don't do it at 2 am like the mockingbird...LOL)

    • MelRootsNWrites profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      The first time I saw a jay was at Yosemite National Park. Except for being very loud, I thought they were beautiful birds. They were incredibly bold and not afraid of the people hiking around them.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The corvids, which include jays, crows and magpies are remarkable intelligent birds. If you can, read the book by Tony Angell called the same thing, and you'll get more than a chuckle. You are correct about new fledglings being carried off by well-intentioned people. The parents are generally never far, unless quite a bit of time has passed, like over 2-3 hours. Nicely done, and I commend you on your efforts!

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 

      4 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      I love any kind of jay. We tend to get mostly blue jays in our area which is fine with me. ;)


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