Armchair ornithology, pt. 2: California Scrub-jay

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A California scrub-jay puffs up its chest on a thin branch

This common California bird has a mischievous side.

Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

City Editor Matt here. The first bird I remember seeing in my life was a California scrub-jay, but I didn’t know it then. Instead, I thought it was a blue jay. I never gave it much thought.

It wasn’t until my early 20s that I learned that a blue jay was an entirely different bird not known to the Golden State, with stained-glass-like plumage on its tail. Naturally, I started to wonder, if that’s what a blue jay is, then what the heck did I see as a kid?

Native to much of California’s interior valley + coastlineand some areas of Oregon, Washington, and Mexico — the California scrub-jay is more than a fixture of California childhoods and urban parks: it has over 20 different bird calls and breeds in isolated pairs year-round, which is unusual for its family.

My favorite thing about them, however, is that they’re known to have a mischievous side. That tracks from my childhood memory: I remember one swooping down, playing with a squirrel trying to nab an acorn.

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