10 Types of Corvids Found in California (Crows, jays)

What kinds of corvids can you find in California?

Types of corvids in California

Corvids, which include crows and jays, are a family of birds known to be some of the SMARTEST birds that have ever been studied. For example, certain corvid species have demonstrated self-awareness in mirror tests and the ability to use tools while foraging for food. Both of these skills are INCREDIBLY rare in the wild kingdom.

And believe it or not, their brain-to-body mass ratio is about the same as great apes and whales and is only slightly lower than humans!

Today, you will learn about the types of corvids found in California!


#1. American Crow

  • Corvus brachyrhynchos

Types of corvids in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • A large bird that is entirely black with an iridescent sheen.
  • Long black bill, black legs, and black feet.

American Crows are adaptable birds and are common in California in almost every habitat. The places they can be found include woodlands, fields, rivers, marshes, farms, parks, landfills, golf courses, cemeteries, and neighborhoods.

American Crow Range Map

american crow range map

While they don’t come to feeders as often as other birds, a few foods attract them consistently. The crows in my backyard LOVE peanuts, whether in the shell or out. Whole-kernel corn and suet also seem to be consumed readily.

These corvids are one of the smartest birds in California.

For example, they can use tools, solve problems, and recognize human faces. It seems that crows even do things just for fun! Seriously, if you search the internet, it’s easy to find videos of them using round objects to sled down roofs.

American Crows have a large vocabulary. Listen for any number of caws, rattles, cackles, and clicks. The most common sound is a “caw-caw.” (Listen below)

YouTube video

 


#2. Common Raven

  • Corvus corax

Types of corvids in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Large bird that is completely black, including its eyes and bill.
  • The bill is hefty and thick.
  • In flight, look for their wedge-shaped tail.

Ravens are one of the SMARTEST birds in California!

For example, one study has shown that these corvids are drawn to gunshots during hunting season to investigate the carcass but ignore other loud noises that don’t lead to food, such as air horns or car alarms.

Their intelligence makes them efficient predators, and it’s common for ravens to team up to get food, such as stealing eggs from nests or attacking larger prey like newly born lambs.

Common Raven Range Map

Since they are so smart and adaptable, Common Ravens are found in many habitats in California. Look for them living near the edges of towns, especially in landfills that supply an endless amount of food. But ravens also have no problem living far away from civilization.

Common Ravens are impressive vocalists that make many different types of calls, from harsh grating calls to shrill alarm sounds. But the most common sound you will hear in the wild is a gurgling croak that rises in pitch.

Interestingly, they can mimic the sounds of many other bird species and even humans if raised in captivity.


#3. Black-billed Magpie

  • Pica hudsonia

Types of corvids in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • A large black and white bird with a long tail.
  • In the right light, you can see beautiful blue iridescent feathers on the wings and tail.

It’s hard to miss these bold corvids in California!

Black-billed Magpies demand your attention. They are very social, noisy, and comfortable living amongst people and are commonly seen in smaller towns. Naturally, they live in open grasslands and plains and tend to avoid dense forests.

Black-billed Magpie Range Map

Being part of the Corvid family, Black-billed Magpies are incredibly intelligent. One interesting behavior is that they seem to have funerals when they discover a deceased magpie. Individual birds will begin calling loudly to attract more magpies, eventually having as many as 40 birds gathered for 10-15 minutes before flying away silently.


#4. Steller’s Jay

  • Cyanocitta stelleri

Types of corvids in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Larger bird with a black head, rounded wings, and a long tail.
  • A tall black crest on the crown of the head helps identify them.
  • Both sexes are half black and half blue on their wings, belly, and tail.

You will find this bold corvid in evergreen forests in California. Steller’s Jays often visit parks, campgrounds, and picnic areas.

Steller’s Jay Range Map

stellers jay range map

This jay species is very intelligent, bold, and noisy. You can attract them to your feeders by providing peanuts, larger seeds, and suet.

Steller’s Jays are often nest robbers. They have even been known to attack or kill small adult birds like nuthatches or juncos.

Males and sometimes females have calls that sound like “shaack, shaack, shaack,” shooka, shooka.” Listen below.


#5. Canada Jay / Gray Jay

  • Perisoreus canadensis

gray jay / canada jay

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Paler grey on the belly. Darker gray on the backs.
  • White cheeks, throat, and forehead.
  • Short beak and a long tail.

It’s hard to describe a Canada Jay other than “cute.” These grey birds are smart and adapt easily to their surroundings, which allows them to consume almost anything.

Seriously, they have been observed eating the following weird things: ticks off the back of a moose, baby bats, amphibians, and baby birds, in addition to more normal foods like invertebrates, seeds, and berries.

Canada Jay Range Map

canada jay range map

Another fascinating fact about this corvid is that they raise their babies during late winter! And because they live so far north in the boreal forests, their chicks grow up in almost complete darkness. Interestingly, they don’t attempt to raise a second brood of babies in May or June, which is when most other bird species have babies, and conditions seem more favorable.

So do you call this bird a Canada Jay or a Gray Jay?

Well, the correct name is now Canada Jay, as the name was changed in 2018 by the American Ornithological Society from the Gray Jay. But old habits die hard, and many birders in California still refer to this bold corvid as a Gray Jay.


#6. Clark’s Nutcracker

  • Nucifraga columbiana

clark's nutcracker

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Medium-sized grey bird with a long, dagger-like black bill and black wings.
  • While in flight, you can see bright white tail feathers, along with white feathers at the end of their wings.

It’s fairly easy to spot one of these corvids in California as long as you head to the correct habitat. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as Clark’s Nutcrackers live in coniferous forests in the mountains!

Their long beak is used to rip into pinecones to remove the seeds, which are mostly taken away to store and consume later. It’s estimated that Clark’s Nutcrackers stash away thousands of seeds each summer, which provides them food through winter. Amazingly, these intelligent birds remember where most pine seeds are hidden!

Clark’s Nutcracker Range Map

clarks nutcracker range map

In fact, they hide so much food they are able to breed as early as January or February and rely ONLY on their cached food supply. As you can imagine, it is incredibly cold high up in the mountains during this time of year, so nothing is growing yet.


#7. California Scrub-Jay

  • Aphelocoma californica

california jay pic

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Medium-sized crestless jay.
  • Both sexes have blue heads, wings, and tails.
  • Look for a white throat outlined with a blue necklace.

These corvids are found in California in scrubland and oak woodlands.

California Scrub-Jay Range Map

california scrub jay range mapCalifornia Scrub-Jays primarily eat grains, fruits, frogs, lizards, and, unfortunately, eggs and young of other birds.

You also might see them standing on the backs of Mule Deer eating ticks! The deer seem to appreciate the help, as they often stand still and hold up their ears to let the birds do their work. 🙂

You can attract California Scrub-Jays to your feeders with sunflower seeds and peanuts. If you are lucky and have them come for a quick meal, you will enjoy watching them because they are very vocal and playful birds.


#8. Pinyon Jay

  • Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus

pinyon jay pic

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Medium-sized jay with a long sharp bill. Looks sort of like a blue crow.
  • Both sexes are several shades of blue and are duller on the belly.

Pinyon Jays are a very noisy corvid in California!

These crestless jays are found in pinyon-juniper woodlands, sagebrush, and pine trees in mountainous regions. This omnivorous species primarily eats pinyon-pine seeds but occasionally eats small animals, snakes, and lizards.

Pinyon Jay Range Map

pinyon jay range map

Pinyon Jays can form large flocks, up to 500 birds that stay together while breeding and foraging year-round. These intelligent birds will come to your bird feeders for a short visit to enjoy some cracked corn, peanuts, sunflower seeds, or suet.

Pinyon Jays make an assortment of calls. Some are incredibly crow-like. Listen below.


#9. Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

  • Aphelocoma woodhouseii

woodhouse scrub jay pic

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Long bird with a long tail and stout bill.
  • Both sexes are light blue and gray on top, have a grayish belly, and a white throat.

You will find these mostly blue corvids in Utah in woodlands of pine and juniper or dry shrublands.

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are known to stand on the backs of mule deer. They do this to help the mule deer by picking off ticks and parasites and eating them. The mule deer don’t mind and will stand still and put their ears up to assist in their efforts.

Woodhouse Scrub-Jay Range Map

woodhouse scrub jay range map

To attract this species to your backyard feeders, you must provide sunflower seeds and peanuts. And if you have thick shrubbery or small trees, you may even be lucky enough to have a pair nest in your yard!

Males and females both sing light, pleasant songs lasting up to five minutes. Listen below.

YouTube video

 


#10. Yellow-billed Magpie

  • Pica nuttalli

yellow billed magpie

Identifying Characteristics:

  • As the name suggests, a bright yellow bill.
  • A large black and white bird with a long tail.
  • In the right light, you can see beautiful blue iridescent feathers on the wings and tail.

This bold and boisterous corvid ONLY lives in California!

Even though Yellow-billed Magpies look similar to Black-billed Magpies, they are very easy to identify because of their bright yellow beak.

The best places to find Yellow-billed Magpies are in the open oak woodlands of the Central Valley, the Sierra Nevada foothills, and the Coast Ranges.

Yellow-billed Magpie Range Map

yellow billed magpie range map

And if you find one of these birds, you will probably find many more. This is because they are incredibly social, even during the breeding season, when dozens of pairs often nest close to each other.


Which of these corvids have you seen before in California?

Leave a comment below!


To learn more about birds in California, check out my other guides!

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