Scrub jays are colorful corvids from the genus Aphelocoma and live across North America south to Mexico. There are 7 species; the most well-known is probably the Californian Scrub jay.
Most Scrub jays are predominantly blue, and it surprises many that they’re related to larger corvids like crows. Here, we’ll explore the diets of Scrub jays and their foraging behaviors.
Scrub jays are opportunistic omnivores that feed on various insects, fruits, seeds, and even small mammals and lizards. When food is abundant, they harvest as much as they can and deposit the excess in caches, which they access when food becomes scarce.
Like other corvids, Scrub jays are exceptionally intelligent and have incredibly accurate spatial memories that help them remember their caches. They also forage cooperatively in small groups and work together to survive.
Of course, there’s much more to learn about this fascinating corvid - so read on to find out more!
Scrub Jays are opportunistic feeders, that feed on a vast array of items
Scrub jays are opportunistic omnivores, and their diet varies depending on what is available. They will eat a variety of insects, small reptiles, rodents, seeds, nuts, and berries.
Scrub jays are intelligent and often track the nests of other birds so they can find and eat their nestlings - brutal but effective!
Scrub jays are also frequently seen feeding on lizards when other food sources are scarce. In urban environments, they feed on human leftovers; they're flexible and aren’t too fussed about what they eat, so long as they’re sufficiently well-fed.
Scrub jays are known to eat various seeds and nuts, including acorns, sunflower seeds, walnuts, corn, pine nuts, cereals, grains, etc.
Scrub jays eat many different types of insects, arthropods, and invertebrates, including beetles, grasshoppers, worms, spiders, flies, millipedes, centipedes, caterpillars, and bees. Moth caterpillars are an important food in some regions.
Scrub jays are known to eat various bush and tree fruits like blueberries, elderberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cherries.
Close up of a Scrub Jay foraging for food on the ground
Scrub jays feed actively throughout the day. Depending on the season and availability, they may eat more or less frequently. For example, prior to winter, they often increase foraging efforts to put on valuable weight.
Scrub jays enjoy peanuts and sunflower seeds and will certainly visit feeders where available. However, many people don’t want to attract jays to their gardens as they can be pretty fierce and might be a menace to other smaller birds.
Some suggested feeders for Scrub jays include ground feeders, hopper feeders, and platform feeders. They’re intelligent and unfussy, so they will find a way to get food from whatever you provide.
Scrub jays forage actively throughout the day, but may also feed in the evening towards dusk.
Close up of a Western Scrub Jay eating suet from a bird feeder
Scrub jays are boisterous feeders that forage alone, in pairs, or in small kin groups.
Like many other corvids, some populations of Scrub jays partake in cooperative breeding - meaning that birds from the same kinship group help each other out when it comes to building nests, rearing chicks, etc.
One of the most fascinating behaviors of the Scrub jay is its ability to cache food. When food is surplus, they create small caches in their territories.
Studies show that these remarkably intelligent birds can remember some 200 caches, and they weigh up and choose the best spots that other animals are unlikely to find.
This is an example of metacognition - a rare trait of animal intelligence reserved largely for humans, Great Apes, dolphins, and a few other species.
Scrub jays are cunning and will also frequently steal food from other animals, including from the caches of woodpeckers.
California Scrub Jay eating a large nut
During the fall and winter months, Scrubs Jays modify their diets to consume a higher proportion of nuts and seeds.
Sometimes in winter, when food is seldom available, they plan by caching surplus food. Caching is more common in fall and early winter.
Scrub jays eat a variety of food items in the summer but tend to choose insects, arthropods, invertebrates, and small vertebrates if possible.
Their summer diet consists mostly of insects, but they eat berries, nuts, and other small fruits. In the breeding season, they’re also known to eat the eggs and young of other birds.
Western Scrub Jay feeding on an insect
You can feed Scrub jays, but many choose not to. In fact, these boisterous birds are sometimes deemed a nuisance or undesirable due to the threat they pose to other birds.
In reality, Scrub jays actually pose a very small risk to other birds and may even support them by eating lizards and other small terrestrial predators. They only prey on other birds when their staple foods are lacking.
So, feeding Scrub jays may pacify their more aggressive tendencies!
Scrub jays are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of foods. They eat insects, small reptiles, nuts, and berries in the wild, so most bird seed mixes will go down well. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are usually a hit.
Bird feeders should be placed in an open area away from trees and bushes so the jays can easily see and access the food.
Avoiding feeding Scrub jays bread and non-nutritious food. In general, anything bad for humans is also bad for birds and other animals. Instead, stick to seeds, nuts, and some occasional kitchen scraps.
Like other birds, Scrub jays prefer clean and fresh water.
Scrub Jays aren't too fussy, and will eat most bird seed mixes
Scrub jays are attracted to yards with plenty of trees and shrubs. They also like yards with bird feeders and bird baths.
You can attract them to your yard by providing a bird feeder with sunflower seeds, peanuts, or suet. You can also put out a dish of water for them to drink and bathe in. Water, food, and bird baths attract all sorts of birds.
Scrub jays are interesting and beneficial birds to have around. They are known to eat many different insects, including some that can bite and harm humans or cause a nuisance to crops.
Corvids get a bad rep due to their at-times hostile behavior, but this is part of their nature, and the food chain depends on it.
They also eat small rodents, lizards, and snakes, which may benefit other wildlife. In addition, they cache food, which can help disperse seeds and help new plants to grow. Jays support oak and other tree populations.
Scrub Jay perched on a wooden fence
Although Scrub jays typically eat acorns, insects, and other small animals. They have been known to eat mice. These opportunistic feeders are cunning and skilled - they’ll not hesitate to catch a vulnerable mouse if they can.
Scrub jays aren’t as notorious for eating hummingbirds as Blue jays, but they have been known to target them on occasion.
Virtually all corvids eat other birds if they have the opportunity. However, this is quite rare, and birds are certainly not the staple of their diets. Studies find that Scrub jays only tend to prey on nestlings when they’re deprived of food.
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