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Western scrub-jays in Utah County

Peanuts are favorite foods for western scrub-jays.
Peanuts are favorite foods for western scrub-jays.
Melissa Mayntz

The western scrub-jay is the most common jay in Utah County and very popular in backyards all year round. These colorful corvids are easy to attract and identify, and they can be amazingly entertaining to watch as they go about their antics.

The western scrub-jay (Aphelocoma californica) is slightly larger than a robin, but with a slender build and longer tail. Their head, wings, and tail are bright blue, with dark gray cheeks and a small white eyebrow. The back is gray, and the underside is also gray, with white vertical streaks on the throat and chest. The legs and bill are dark gray-black.

These are raucous, vocal birds with a loud, rasping squawk. They will chase one another and occasionally chase or harass other birds as well, especially black-billed magpies. At the feeder, they prefer peanuts but will also take cracked corn and mixed birdseed. If there are oak trees in the yard, they will help themselves to acorns.

Backyard birders can offer either whole or shelled peanuts for scrub-jays, but avoid salted or flavored nuts. Peanuts can sprout, so offering either shelled peanuts or roasted peanuts is best, and they can be offered in a dish or tray feeder, or a dedicated peanut feeder. Just offering a handful of nuts on a table or deck railing will also interest these jays.

Once you put the peanuts out for scrub-jays, fun begins. Watch for these birds to carefully select a nut, often after weighing or manipulating several in their bill before making a final choice. They will often bury the nut in the grass or garden, using bits of grass, a stray leaf, or other debris to camouflage its location. If other jays are around, which is common in late summer or early fall as siblings are growing up and getting out on their own, there can be loud squabbles at feeders as they all try to get the best nuts.

Do you have western scrub-jays in your yard? Share your experiences in the comments!

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