Woodhouse Scrub-jay

Woodhouse Scrub-jay in a tree

Woodhouse Scrub-jay

Aphelocoma woodhouseii

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Bird


Woodhouse’s scrub-jays have long tails and medium-sized, powerful bills. The head, wings, and tail are light blue, the back is gray-brown, the underside is gray to tan, and the throat is white or gray. Unlike Steller’s jays and blue jays, they do not have a crest.

The Woodhouse’s scrub-jay was once known as a subspecies of the California scrub-jay, which is found on the Pacific Coast. It has recently been split from the California scrub-jay and is now considered its own species which occupies interior North America. Woodhouse’s scrub-jays lack the distinct blue collar seen on California scrub-jays and dark black mask, and tend to be duller in color overall. They also have longer beaks used for extracting pine nuts from pinecones, while California scrub-jays have shorter, hooked beaks used for opening acorns.

Their behavior can be bold and inquisitive, and their calls can be loud and raucous. However, Woodhouse’s scrub-jays tend to be quieter and their calls are lower-pitched than those of California scrub-jays. Woodhouse’s scrub-jays are about 11.5 inches (29 centimeters) in length with a wingspan of about 15 inches (38 centimeters).


The Woodhouse’s scrub-jay does not migrate. It is found in the United States from Nevada, Utah, and Colorado down into southern Mexico. Woodhouse’s scrub-jays are found in dry mountain canyons with pinyon pine and juniper forests in the Rockies, but they prefer scrubby, brushy areas.


Woodhouse’s scrub-jays eat insects, fruits, nuts, berries, and seeds, and occasionally small animals, usually while foraging in pairs or small family groups. Pine nuts are their most preferred food. Their diet consists of about 37% animal matter, 54% vegetable matter, and 9% grinding material used to improve digestion.

Jays are known to cache food for the winter. They scatter pieces of food in many, many different hiding places for later retrieval. Up to 6,000 pinyon seeds may be stored by one individual in one season. When some of these seeds are forgotten or left behind in the winter, they sprout into seedlings and replenish the forest. Woodhouse’s scrub-jays have been shown to have an ability to plan ahead in choosing food storage sites, remembering the locations of their caches and storing enough food to plan for the future.

Life History

Woodhouse’s scrub-jay pairs make basket-shaped nests of twigs lined with fibers and hair. Nests are built low and concealed behind foliage, generally in pinyon, juniper, or oak shrubs. They have one brood of three to six eggs each spring season. Pairs stay together throughout the year, and young may sometimes stick around to help their parents raise a new brood the following year.


Woodhouse’s scrub-jays are common in appropriate habitats and their populations appear to be generally stable, though data may be skewed by the species’ historical inclusion in counts of the former western scrub-jay species group. In the future, climate warming is expected to severely restrict the Woodhouse’s scrub-jay’s range to the cooler areas of the Rocky Mountains.

Fun Fact

During the non-breeding season, individual Woodhouse’s scrub-jays that are unable to retain year-round territories are called “floaters.” In the winter, these floaters tend to flock up and move away from breeding habitat together. In the spring, they may return to challenge territory-owners for breeding territory of their own.


Baughman, M. (2003). National Geographic reference atlas to the birds of North America. Washington, D.C., National Geographic Society.

National Geographic

Nature Serve Explorer

Planning for the future by western scrub-jays. Nature. Vol. 445 (22), February 2007.

Point Reyes Bird Observatory

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

University of California Oak Woodland Management

Western scrub-jay funerals: cacophonous aggregations in response to dead conspecifics, Animal Behaviour. Vol 84 (5), November 2012

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