A Tale of Three Jays

Every time I hike on the Fay-Luther Trail system, I always hear and see two species of jay that you usually will not see in the same area because they prefer different habitats. As you walk up the Sandy Trail from the trailhead, you have a good chance of spotting a California Scrub Jay in the sagebrush…

California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)

Their most common habitat is oak woodland, oak scrub, riverside woods, and foothill forests of pinyon pine. They are also very common in suburbs and parks, and I see them frequently in my neighborhood in the Gardnerville Ranchos. They depend heavily on acorns for their food, and you will frequently see them with one in their bills. Here is a sample of their call…


But as you get closer to the mountains and higher in elevation, the habitat changes to more conifer and pine-oak forests and another jay, the Steller’s Jay, becomes more common…

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

In the conifers, you will see and hear flocks of them feeding and here is a sample of their distinctive call…

They also will imitate the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk.

Between Scrub Jays and Steller’s Jays here, there is some overlap in their habitat so it is possible that you will see both species in the same tree, although I never have. Still, it’s great to be able to see both these species on the same hike!

If you are out on the Pinyon Trail or anywhere in the Pine Nut Mountains, here is another jay you may see, a Pinyon Jay…

Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)

They look very similar to the Scrub Jay, but their coloring is more uniform and not as distinctive, although with their blue and gray colors I think they are very pretty birds. They love pinyon pines, junipers and range into sagebrush. Under normal conditions, they are seldom found far from pinyon pines in pinyon-juniper woods, as they feed heavily on the seeds of pinyon pines, and their distribution is tied closely to the range of these trees. Pinyon Jays are sociable at all seasons, traveling in flocks and nesting in colonies. Like all jays, they are quite noisy, so listen for their calls while you are out there…

I think it is pretty wonderful that we have three beautiful and gregarious species of jays in our area, so keep an eye and an ear out for them while you are enjoying our trails!



This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Joel Potter

    Love it! Thank you Annette!

  2. Deby O'Gorman

    How awesome it is that we get to live here. Thank you Annette for the Tale of Three Jays.

  3. Tamara Lieberman

    I have the scrub jay at my house. When I lived on Donner Summit I had the stellar jay at my house. Very noisy and bossy. Thanks Annette for this posting.

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