These highly intelligent and widely distributed birds called corvids or crows are known as the smartest birds and include colorful jays, large ravens, magpies, nutcrackers, and crows.
Crows are among the most intelligent of birds and show skills equivalent to a 7-year-old child. They make tools to get bugs out of crevices and even to fish with!
Crows are omnivores and will eat whatever is available and this can cause problems when they target trash and it can give them a bad reputation. They are also associated with death and bad omens in folklore.
There are 14 types of crows in California and these include American Crows, California Scrub-Jays, Common Ravens, Steller’s Jays, Yellow-billed Magpies, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Black-billed Magpies, Pinyon Jays, Island Scrub-Jays, Canada Jays, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays, Black-throated Magpie-Jays, Blue Jays, and Green Jays.
Love them or hate them they are fascinating birds to watch and so check out all the corvids in California.
14 Crows in California:
1. American Crow
American Crows are very common in California and are spotted in the state all year. They are recorded in 34% of summer checklists and 38% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
American crows are large all-black birds, including their legs and bills. They have slightly glossy feathers.
- Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Length: 15.8-20.9 in (40-53 cm)
- Weight: 11.2-21.9 oz (316-620 g)
- Wingspan: 33.5-39.4 in (85-100 cm)
American Crows are residents all year in the lower 48 and the Pacific Coast of Canada and Alaska. Those that breed in Canada and the northern Midwest migrate south for winter.
They are common birds that can be found in most habitats, including treetops, woods, fields, beaches, or towns.
They eat most things and usually feed on the ground, eating earthworms, insects, seeds, and fruit. They also eat fish, young turtles, mussels, and clams and will even eat eggs and nestlings of many species of birds.
American Crow Sounds: They make a hoarse, cawing sound
Nests of American Crows are usually high up in conifers and oak and are made from sticks. They lay 3 – 6 eggs, and these take just under three weeks to hatch and a further five weeks to fledge.
Attract American Crows to your backyard by scattering peanuts, but they can become a nuisance as attracted by garbage or pet food if left out.
Fun Fact: American Crows gather in large numbers of up to two million crows in winter to sleep in communal roosts.
2. California Scrub-Jay
California Scrub-Jays do not migrate and are residents of California all year. They are spotted in 31% of summer and winter checklists for the state.
California Scrub-Jays are large songbirds with long tails, whitish undersides and rich blue and gray backs, and a bright blue breast band. They are larger than a robin but smaller than a crow. They look visually similar to the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay but with more vivid colors.
- Aphelocoma californica
- Length: 11.0-11.8 in (28-30 cm)
- Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz (70-100 g)
- Wingspan: 15.3 in (39 cm)
California Scrub-Jays are resident all year on the Pacific Coast from British Columbia down to Baja California.
You can find California Scrub-Jay in scrub, oak woodlands, and in suburban yards and parks. They eat insects and fruit during spring and summer and then seeds and nuts, especially acorns, in fall and winter.
California Scrub-Jay sounds: Their call is high-pitched and repetitive. They also sing a courtship song of soft whistles.
Nests of California Scrub-Jay are usually hidden in oak trees and can take up to 10 days to construct the nest made of twigs and a soft lining. They lay 1 – 5 eggs, and the eggs take around 17 – 19 days to hatch.
Attract California Scrub-Jays to your backyard with sunflower seeds and peanuts in your feeders.
Fun fact: California Scrub-Jay will screech over the body of a dead jay and invite others to do the same, and this can last up to half an hour, according to the University of California – Davis
3. Common Raven
Common Ravens are found in California all year. They appear in up to 28% of summer and winter checklists.
Common Ravens are thought to be one of the smartest and definitely one of the largest species in the songbird family. They have shaggy throat feathers, large black beaks, and wedge-shaped tails.
- Corvus corax
- Length: 22.1-27.2 in (56-69 cm)
- Weight: 24.3-57.3 oz (689-1625 g)
- Wingspan: 45.7-46.5 in (116-118 cm)
Common Ravens are resident in Canada, western US states, northeastern US states, Mexico, and northern Central America. They are not found in the Great Plains or eastern US states.
You can find Common Ravens in most places, and they especially follow humans. Forests, beaches, fields, grasslands are all places to find them and rural human areas. They are not common in towns and cities as American Crows take over.
Not known as picky eaters, Common Ravens will eat most things, including any small animals, eggs and nestlings, plus insects and fish. Human rubbish and pet food
Common Raven sounds: Mostly croaks and harsh calls
Nests of Common Ravens are usually relatively high up on cliffs, trees, bridges, and towers. Their nests are made from long sticks and are large, up to 5 feet across and 2 feet high. The inside of the nest will be lined with mud and softer material, such as grass and wool.
Common Ravens lay up to seven eggs, and they take around three weeks to hatch and about five weeks to fledge.
Fun Fact: Common Ravens in Canada weigh up to 60% more than those in California.
4. Steller’s Jay
Steller’s Jays are residents of California all year. However, they are spotted more during the breeding season and occur in 16% of summer checklists and 7% of winter checklists.
Steller’s Jays are large songbirds with black triangular crests that stick up from their heads. The rest of their heads and onto their chests and back are black, with the rest of their bodies being blue.
- Cyanocitta stelleri
- Length: 11.8-13.4 in (30-34 cm)
- Weight: 3.5-4.9 oz (100-140 g)
- Wingspan: 17.3 in (44 cm)
Steller’s Jays are resident in western US states, western Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
You can find Steller’s Jays in evergreen forests in the mountains, and they will also be found around picnic tables, campgrounds, and backyard feeders.
Steller’s Jays eat most things they can forage for, including insects, seeds, nuts, berries, eggs, and nestlings, but also making a nuisance of themselves around garbage and your unguarded picnic!
Steller’s Jay sounds: They make ‘kaw’ sounds as well as fast two-toned calls, peeps, and harsh guttural sounds. Steller’s Jays can also mimic other noises such as other bird species and even sprinklers and alarms.
Nests of Stellar’s Jays are usually near the top of conifer trees and are built from leaves and plant material held together with mud and lined with soft pine needles.
Attract Steller’s Jays to your backyard with peanuts and suet.
Fun fact: Stellar’s Jays make nests out of the mud.
5. Yellow-billed Magpie
Yellow-billed Magpies are endemic and vulnerable species in California but they are spotted in the state all year. They are recorded in up to 2% of summer and winter checklists.
Yellow-billed Magpies are distinctive birds with bold black and white markings, long tails, and bright yellow bills. The white patches are on their bellies and the shoulder of their wings. They also have iridescent blue on their wings.
- Pica nuttalli
- Length: 16.9-21.3 in (43-54 cm)
- Weight: 5.3-6.0 oz (150-170 g)
- Wingspan: 24.0 in (61 cm)
Yellow-billed Magpies are endemic and are only found in California, and they do not migrate.
You can find Yellow-billed Magpies in areas with oak trees, often near streams, and they will forage on the ground in open areas such as fields for insects and grain.
Like most species of the crow family, they are opportunity feeders and will also eat trash, eggs, baby birds, fruit, and even feed on dead animals.
Yellow-billed Magpie sounds:
Nests of Yellow-billed Magpies are built high up in trees and are pretty huge for an average-sized bird.
They are nearly 3 feet wide and made of sticks held together with mud and dung and then lined with softer materials such as grass and bark. The nest will often have a roof made of sticks.
6. Clark’s Nutcracker
Although there have been sightings all year, Clark’s Nutcrackers are mainly spotted in eastern California from May to mid-November. They appear in 1% of summer checklists.
Clark’s Nutcrackers are similar in appearance to Canada Jays, with the gray coloring. They have shorter tails than jays and lack the crest. Clark’s Nutcrackers are light gray with black wings and tails with white patches.
- Nucifraga columbiana
- Length: 10.6-11.8 in (27-30 cm)
- Weight: 3.7-5.7 oz (106-161 g)
Clark’s Nutcrackers can be found all year in the pine forests of the mountainous west. They do not migrate but do move up to higher altitudes in the summer, and if pine crops are poor, they will move large distances.
Clark’s Nutcrackers mainly eat pine seeds fresh from the tree or those they have hidden away previously. They will occasionally eat insects, spiders, or small mammals if they get a chance.
Clark’s Nutcracker sounds:
Nests of Clark’s Nutcrackers are made in conifer trees and are made from sticks and twigs and lined with wood pulp, followed by soft dry grass and moss.
They lay 2 – 6 eggs, and these take around two and a half weeks to hatch and a further three weeks to fledge.
Attract Clark’s Nutcrackers to your backyard with black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet.
Fun Fact: Clark’s Nutcrackers have been recorded as far as Northeastern US states, when cone crops are poor, a distance of up to 2000 miles!
7. Black-billed Magpie
Black-billed Magpies are spotted in California all year, mainly in the east of the state.
Black-billed Magpies, usually just called Magpies, are black and white birds that are noisy. They have long tails and blue-green iridescent flashes in the wing and tail. Males are up to 25% heavier than females.
- Pica hudsonia
- Length: 17.7-23.6 in (45-60 cm)
- Weight: 5.1-7.4 oz (145-210 g)
- Wingspan: 22.1-24.0 in (56-61 cm)
Black-billed Magpies live in northwestern US states and western Canada, and the coast of Alaska. They do not migrate.
You can find them walking on the ground in meadow and grasslands or other open areas feeding on fruit and grain, beetles, and grasshoppers. They have also been known to kill small mammals such as squirrels and voles and raid bird nests for eggs or nestlings and even carrion.
Black-billed Magpie sounds: A series of harsh calls and also a scream.
Nests of Black-billed Magpies are a messy ball-shaped collection of twigs with a neat cup of mud and soft material on the inside. They lay 6 – 7 eggs, and these take around three weeks to hatch and fledge a further 3 – 4 weeks.
You can attract Black-billed Magpies to your backyard with platform and suet feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, fruit, suet, millet, and milo.
Fun Fact: A gathering of magpies calling around one of their dead is called a funeral.
8. Pinyon Jay
Pinyon Jays are vulnerable species in California but they can be spotted in the east of the state all year.
Pinyon Jays are blue all over, with darker backs and paler bellies. They also have white throats, shorter tails, and do not have crests like other Jays, like Stellar’s Jays. Males and females look the same, but juveniles can look more grayish-blue.
- Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
- Length: 10.2-11.4 in (26-29 cm)
- Weight: 3.2-4.2 oz (90-120 g)
- Wingspan: 18.1 in (46 cm)
Pinyon Jays are residents inland in western US states in pinyon-pine forests.
As well as seeds from pinyon-pine, Pinyon Jays will eat juniper berries, acorns, and other animals such as lizards, baby birds, and insects. They are opportunity feeders who will take most things and forage in large, noisy groups.
Pinyon Jay sounds: They make 3 ‘kaw’ like calls close together that rise and then fall and sometimes shake or tremble.
Nests of Pinyon Jays are built of sticks and grass in pine trees and lined with feathers and animal hair.
Fun fact: Pinyon Jays do not have feathers over their nostrils to prevent the sticky pine pitch from making them dirty.
9. Island Scrub Jay
Island Scrub-Jays are endemic species in California and they have only been spotted around Santa Cruz Island.
Island Scrub-Jays are large, brightly-colored birds similar to California Scrub-Jays except that their feathers are darker and more richly-colored. They are blue from their head to their tail on the back and gray on top of their wings. They have white throats.
- Aphelocoma insularis
- Length: 11 – 12 in (28 – 33 cm)
- Weight: 4.1 – 4.4 oz (116 – 125 g)
Island Scrub-Jays are permanent residents of Santa Cruz Island, hence their name, and they do not migrate. The island is dominated by oak woodland and chaparral with several streamside thickets and other trees.
The diet of Island Scrub-Jays is mostly insects, small lizards, mice, and even the eggs and young of other smaller birds. In the fall, it feasts on acorns, using its beak to break the shell.
Island Scrub-Jay sounds:
Nest of Island Scrub-Jays are hidden in oak trees. It is sturdy and built with twigs and lined with rootlets and animal hair to keep it soft on the inside. They lay around four eggs and they take about eighteen days to hatch. As to when the young leave the nest, there’s not a lot of data to go from.
Fun Fact: Since the Island Scrub-Jay never leaves Santa Cruz Island, it has the smallest range of any North American bird.
10. Canada Jay
Canada Jays are not very common in California but they are recognized as regularly occurring and are spotted in the north of the state all year.
Canada Jays are dark gray on the back and a soft pale gray below. They have white heads and throats, with a black band running around the back of the head.
They are sometimes known as Grey Jays. Females look the same as males, but juveniles are darker gray all over.
- Length: 9.8-11.4 in (25-29 cm)
- Weight: 2.0-3.0 oz (58-84 g)
Canada Jays are resident in Canada, Alaska, and the high mountains of the northwest US. Some color differences occur with Canada Jays from different areas. With those in the Rockies being paler than those in Canada.
You can find Canada Jays in boreal forests where spruce trees are common. They are not as loud as other Jays and are opportunity feeders, eating a wide variety of food, including insects, berries, and dead animals. They will also come close looking for food dropped by hikers.
Although they look sweet, Canada Jays have a deadly side, and they will kill baby birds for food and even hunt smaller species such as chickadees and warblers.
Canada Jay sounds: They have a gentle whispered song but often make harsher calls and clatters. Canada Jays can also imitate other species.
Nests of Canada Jays are built early in conifers when there is still snow around. The nest is made from dead twigs and is lined with feathers and built on the south side of the tree for warmth.
Attract Canada Jays to your backyard with most kinds of bird food, such as seeds and suet, and they will readily eat from tube or platform feeders.
Fun fact: Canada Jays produce special saliva, which they use to mold food into a sticky blob, and then they stick it in a hiding place like gum under a desk.
11. Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are spotted in eastern California all year but they are not very common here.
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are the Blue-Jays of the Southwest with lovely blue and gray coloring. They are light blue and dark gray on the back and light gray underneath. Their tails are long and blue.
They are duller in color than California Scrub-Jays and have only a small necklace, and lack the crests of Blue Jays and Stellar’s Jays.
- Aphelocoma woodhouseii
- Length: 11.0-11.8 in (28-30 cm)
- Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz (70-100 g)
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are resident inland in southwest US states and Mexico. You can find them in wooded areas with pinyon-juniper and scrubby areas.
Insects and fruit make up most of the diet of Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays in summer and nuts and seeds in winter.
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay sounds:
Nests of Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay are fairly simple platforms made of twigs and lined with moss and grass.
Attract Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays to your backyard with sunflower seeds and peanuts.
Fun Fact: Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are thieves that steal food from other birds stores, especially Acorn Woodpeckers’ granary tree store of acorns.
12. Black-throated Magpie-Jay
Black-throated Magpie-Jays are introduced species in California and although they are spotted all year, they are only found around the southwest of the state.
The striking Black-Throated Magpie Jay is a large, long-tailed bird. It has a conspicuous black crest and throat, a patch of blue on its eyebrows and under the eye, blue wings, a white-tipped tail, and a white underside.
In the south of their range, their throats are more white with a thinner black band.
- Calocitta colliei
- Length: 23 – 30 in (58.5 – 76.5 cm)
- Weight: 8 – 9 oz (225 – 251 cm)
You can find Black-throated Magpie Jays around tropical lowland forests, plantations, and partially open areas with tall trees and hedges. They are not particularly fond of humid woodlands, though.
Typical of a crow family, a Black-throated Magpie Jay eats both plants and animals. It loves seeds and nuts but is also known to eat insects and other smaller birds.
Black-throated Magpie-Jay sounds:
Black-throated Magpie-Jays nest is usually created with sticks and twigs but lined with some soft material, and they lay up to seven eggs.
Fun Fact: Black-throated Magpie Jay eats standing up. One foot is used to hold on to the food while the other foot puts food in its mouth.
13. Blue Jay
Blue Jays are extremely rare in California and are considered accidental species in the state but there have been occasional sightings in the north of the state during winter. They were last spotted around Fortuna in 2020.
Blue Jays are common large songbirds with a blue upright crest, blue and black backs, and white undersides.
- Cyanocitta cristata
- Length: 9.8-11.8 in (25-30 cm)
- Weight: 2.5-3.5 oz (70-100 g)
- Wingspan: 13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)
Blue Jays live in eastern US states and Southern Canada all year. Some birds will migrate west for winter but not very frequently.
They are noisy birds that travel in family groups eating acorns when available. They can be found in forests, especially near oak, as they eat acorns. They can also be found in backyards near feeders.
As well as acorns, they eat insects, nuts and seeds, and grain. They may also take eggs from nests or take nestlings.
Blue Jay sounds: They usually make a variety of quite harsh calls using clicks, peeps, ‘caws’, and whistles. Blue Jays also have a gentle fluted song during courtship.
Blue Jays are large birds and prefer to fly in, grab a peanut or sunflower seed and take it away to feed. They prefer platform or tray feeders to make it easy to make a quick exit.
Attract Blue Jays to your backyard with peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet on tray feeders or hopper feeders on a post. They will also enjoy a birdbath.
Fun fact: Blue Jays will play with shiny objects such as aluminum or bottle caps, and they will carry them around, dropping them and picking them up.
14. Green Jay
Green Jays are accidental species in California. They are extremely rare in the state and were last spotted around the Tijuana River Valley in 2021.
Green Jays are a fantastic mix of bright green, blue, and black. They have dark green backs, paler bellies, and bright blue and black heads.
- Cyanocorax yncas
- Length: 11.4 in (29 cm)
- Weight: 2.3-3.9 oz (66-110 g)
This colorful Green Jay is a rare find in the US as they are only seen in southern Texas. They usually live along the coasts of Mexico, Central America, and South America.
You can find Green Jays in woodlands near streams and water, and they feed on insects, fruit, and seeds. If you are lucky, you may see one at bird feeders in Texan wildlife refuges.
Green Jay sounds: They make a variety of several fast calls that can be ‘Kaw’ like, buzzing, clicking, peeps and screams.
Nests of Green Jays are simple stick constructions lined with moss, leaves, and grass. Even their eggs have a greenish tint to them!
Fun facts: Green Jays are one of a few birds that can use tools, and they will use sticks to help pry up bark to get to food below.