do scrub jays eat other birds

Recognition: Our common backyard jay is a very familiar bird: medium-sized, blue, and unmistakable. You are unlikely to confuse them with bluebirds, our next most common bird that is blue, which are smaller, quiet, mild-mannered birds, utterly dissimilar in personality to the raucous and domineering jays.

We do have one other local jay, known formally as the Steller’s jay and formerly as the crested jay, which is rather more obvious. He lives in forests and has a big black crest, a black head, and a rather prettier pattern on his blue feathers.

Name: Officially, this bird is known as the California scrub-jay. And you could call it that: as far as official names go, “scrub-jay” is quite usable. Even if “scrub” is not quite a comprehensive description of its preferred habitat (are you calling my backyard “scrub”?), it does serve to distinguish it from our forest-dwelling Steller’s jay.

Casually, a fair number of people call it a blue jay. And if you call it that, I wouldn’t blame you. Some birders will — this is a classic trigger for birder pedanticism as they point out that “Blue Jay” is the official, American Ornithologist Union-blessed designation for a particular eastern species of jay. You can usually get around their nit-picking if you simply call it a “jay.” Or there is an alternative response to birders’ finicky bowing to taxonomic precedent: ignore them. They’ll be ok.

If you want to be an idiosyncratic connoisseur of antiquated folk names, you can join me in reviving the charming name of blue squawker, for which I make an extended case below.

Where and When: Squawkers live here all year round, in a wide variety of habitats: residential neighborhoods, oak woodlands of all kinds, and scrubby natural habitats like the hot inland chaparral or foggy coastal scrub. Most places except for dense forest and treeless grassland really.

Voice: Jays squawk! Loud, harsh, and unmusical. And pretty unmistakable: add this to the list of bird sounds that you, utter birding novice, already recognize, along with hammering woodpeckers, hooting owls, cawing crows, and cooing doves.

But this morning I saw something I’ve never seen before. One of those adorable little guys was being attacked by two crows up in a tree.

Although crows and jays are related (see the first letter), they are not as adept at spotting squirrels as they are at taking down small birds and mice.

Gary: In the empty lot at Ygnacio Valley Road and Oak Grove in Walnut Creek, we just watched a golden eagle tearing apart a ground squirrel. Not a vulture, too large to be a hawk, with some light patches suggesting its youth, I believe He took a few minutes to work on his lunch, then took off with some of it and flew for a minute around that crossroads before landing in a nearby oak.

If scrub jays resembled small hawks, we would be quick to conclude, “Oh, darn, a hawk got that little bird,” whenever we witnessed them snatching small birds.

But scrub jays, unfortunately, don’t look like hawks. They are Mother Nature’s dapper blue-clad gentlemen, and we think, “Bring me my shotgun, Martha! That mean old miserable jay is picking on that poor little birdie!” when they pursue a small bird.

It works the same way in reverse circumstances. Every negative thing you’ve heard about Jays is, for the most part, true. However, I don’t think the totality of these grievances amounts to a categorical denunciation. I don’t judge people or birds by their resumes, but other people who cite similar facts might be very reasonable, Quintia might check a lot of boxes for cuteness, and squawkers might check a lot of boxes for irritation potential and outright meanness. Surfaces can be so misleading. Whether you consider yourself to be one of the jay’s supporters or critics, I hope that by going through this series of charges and defenses we will get a little closer to a more robust appreciation, one that neither crumbles before certain facts nor relies on ignorance of the seemingly unsavory. What is the justice behind each of these three reasons for dislike? What can one say in favor of this bird?

Voice: Jays squawk! Loud, harsh, and unmusical. And pretty obvious too: add this to the list of bird sounds that even a complete beginner to birdwatching can identify, along with woodpeckers hammering, owls hooting, crows cawing, and doves cooing.

More importantly, and the reason I hear people dislike them more than anything else, is their bullying and controlling behavior toward smaller birds. There are a few variations on this sentiment. The most common source of it is the observation of a common occurrence: a jay will fly in with a loud squawk, scattering the small songbirds as they are eating on a birdfeeder. When people discover that jays actively prey on small birds, especially eggs and nestlings, rather than just scattering them from feeders when the mood strikes, their protective empathy for smaller birds grows.

Lastly, jays belong to a unique group of birds that will kill other members of their own species—presumably out of territorial tribalism, as it usually takes a group of jays to kill an individual by repeatedly striking them—rather than for food. Many people perceive a startling inconsistency between that behavior and their overall perception of birds, believing them to be more peaceful creatures than that, with the exception of certain predators.

Identification: The common backyard jay is a well-known bird that is medium in size, blue, and easily identifiable. They are not to be confused with bluebirds, which are our next most common blue bird. Bluebirds are smaller, quieter, mild-mannered birds, completely different from the noisy, overbearing jays in terms of personality.

FAQ

Do scrub-jays eat small birds?

Scrub jays are omnivorous and eat invertebrates, fruit, seeds, baby birds, bird eggs, small rodents, frogs, peanuts and acorns. And as you discovered, they’ll even attack and eat small adult birds that have been injured.

Are scrub-jays aggressive to other birds?

Scrub-jays are known to jealously guard food sources, diving at birds that venture into the area and issuing loud, angry sounding shrieks. They also will band together with other scrub-jays to attack hawks, owls and other predators.

What animals do scrub-jays eat?

Adult and juvenile jays must watch out for predators including raptors, common ravens, snakes, and other jays. California scrub-jays eat insects, fruits, nuts, berries, and seeds, and occasionally small animals.

Do jays eat other birds?

Key facts. Diet Mainly acorns, nuts, seeds and insects, but also eats nestlings of other birds and small mammals.