Aphelocoma is a genus in the Crow and Jay family (Corvidae). It includes my favorite bird, the Florida Scrub-Jay, as well as six other charismatic species (according to the AOU Checklist). The birds that comprise this genus are as follows (in the order they appear on the checklist):
*Note: this page has now been updated to reflect the 2016 split of Western Scrub-Jay (A. californica) into California Scrub-Jay and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (A. woodhouseii).*
- Florida Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma coerulescens
- Endemic to the xeric scrub of Central Florida, this species has declined by >90% in the last fifty years due to habitat loss and degradation. Its population is estimated to be around 4,000 birds. Well-known for their cooperative breeding system.
- Island Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma insularis
- Endemic to the pine and oak forests of Santa Cruz Island in California, this bird is the only insular endemic in North America. Its population hovers just over 2,000 birds, all found on a single island off the coast of Southern California.
- California Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma californica
- Found from southern British Columbia to the southern tip of Baja California. Recently split from Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, this species frequents the oak forests along the west coast. It is slightly larger and more brightly colored than Woodhouse’s.
- Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma woodhouseii
- The smaller, paler inland counterpart to the California Scrub-Jay. Found in pinyon-juniper woodlands in the interior west, from eastern California east through central Texas and south to southern Mexico. The south Mexican forms likely represent a different species, Sumichrast’s Scrub-Jay.
- Transvolcanic Jay – Aphelocoma ultramarina
- Split from the Mexican Jay in 2011, this species inhabits the montane forests of the Transvolcanic Belt of Central Mexico. Its plumage is a slightly darker and richer blue than that of wollweberi.
- Mexican Jay – Aphelocoma wollweberi
- A common sight on trips to southern Texas and Arizona, this species ranges from the US-Mexico border south to central Mexico (north of the Transvolcanic Belt). It is found in pine and oak forests throughout its range.
- Unicolored Jay – Aphelocoma unicolor
- Named for its striking all-blue plumage (all other Aphelocoma species are typically blue on the upperparts only). The southernmost species in this genus, its range stretches from Central Mexico south to the Honduras-Nicaragua border. Based on recent phylogenetic studies, this species appears to be the basal member of Aphelocoma.
Of these seven species, I have seen five (bolded). I still look forward to catching my first glimpse of Transvolcanic and Unicolored Jays, both found south of the United States.
I have a great love for all of the birds in this genus. It ranks as my favorite genus of birds, thanks to its members’ beauty, intelligence, and curiosity. I found it fitting to name my next online venture after these birds, which I hope to study as an ornithologist.