JCM Digital Imaging : Scrub Jay Nest and Rearing Documentary
JCM Digital Imaging, based in Santa Clarita, California, since 1992 Presents:
A Scrub Jay Nest and Rearing Documentary
Scrub Jay Nest, Rearing and Documenatry Web Site
In mid-March of 2015, I happened to notice a pair of Western Scrub Jays (Aphelocoma californica) building a nest mid-way up a short Scrub Oak, about 8 feet above ground level. Not wanting to discourage them from finishing and using the nest, I waited a couple of weeks until it was done before I designed a wildlife "pole-cam" system using a GoPro Hero 3+ Black, and set about mounting it in the tree. After waiting until the birds were away, I strapped the pole cam to the tree trunk so that it could see into the nest, and then took cover to check the camera view and see how the birds responded. To my surprise, there were already a couple of eggs in the nest. When the mother bird returned, she seemd cautious about the new equipment only a couple of feet away, but after keeping an eye on for 10 minutes she decied that it wasn't a threat and went about her business as usual. Pics of the pole cam mounted in the tree:
Scrub Jay nest filming set GoPro Hero3+ Black polecam 4-4-2015 Santa Clarita JCMDI.COM
Pole Cam
Scrub Jay nest filming set GoPro Hero3+ Black polecam 4-4-2015 Santa Clarita JCMDI.COM
Pole Cam
Scrub Jay nest filming set GoPro Hero3+ Black polecam 4-4-2015 Santa Clarita JCMDI.COM
Pole Cam
Scrub Jay nest filming set GoPro Hero3+ Black polecam 4-4-2015 Santa Clarita JCMDI.COM
Pole Cam
Scrub Jay nest filming set GoPro Hero3+ Black polecam 4-4-2015 Santa Clarita JCMDI.COM
Pole Cam
Scrub Jay nest filming set GoPro Hero3+ Black polecam 4-4-2015 Santa Clarita JCMDI.COM
Pole Cam


The camera was powered by a USB adapter which was plugged into a nearby solar array and 12v battery system, so I didn't have to deal with changing/charging camera batteries. The GoPro also has built-in WiFi which provides a live a camera view, start/stop recording control, file download and other camera functions, so that I could do just about everything remotely using a small tablet without disturbing the birds.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly. On 4-2-2015 I noticed a 3rd egg in the nest. For the next three weeks, the mother bird continued to incubate her eggs, with the father bird bringing her food at regular intervals. On the morning of 4-20-2015, I saw that two of the eggs had hatched...
Scrub Jay female feeds leaves nest
Male feeds female
Scrub Jay female in nest cold morning zoomed
3 eggs in nest
Scrub Jay female stands on nest inspects eggs3 eggs in nest
3 eggs in nest
Scrub Jay female with fresh chicks
New chicks
Scrub Jay female looks over 2 fresh chicks HS300
female and chicks
Scrub Jay female looks over 2 fresh chicks HS300 chicks zoomed
Chicks zoomed




Predators were all around the nest... Ravens, crows and hawks circled above, while squirrels, cats and other predators patrolled below. At one point, a large crow landed on top of the scrub oak just a few feet above the nest, causing the Scrub Jays to go crazy trying to attack and distract it. I wasn't sure why the crow chose to investigate the tree, but the shiny aluminum foil coating I had placed over the pole cam shroud to prevent heat and rain from damaging the camera made me wonder... I remembered hearing that some birds, particularly members of the crow and jay family are sometimes drawn to shiny things, and will even steal them for some reason. I decided to re-think the pole cam's protective shield, leaning towards a more camouflaged theme, and finally re-designed/re-built the whole thing:
home-made GoPro wildlife camera rig
New pole cam
home-made GoPro wildlife camera rig
New pole cam
home-made GoPro wildlife camera rig
New pole cam
home-made GoPro wildlife camera rig and nest
New pole cam
home-made GoPro wildlife camera rig and nest
New pole cam
home-made GoPro wildlife camera rig and nest
New pole cam


The two little birds grew rapidly while the third egg seemed to be a dud. The parents waited for a number of days before discarding the third egg, transporting it off to parts unknown, just as they did with any other waste material. Scrub Jays keep an immaculate nest, immediately whisking away all foreign material to distant locations. Even debris which fell below the nest was recovered and removed. This behavior probably serves to prevent predators from discovering the nesting location by tracking the source of Scrub Jay-related materials. The set of images below shows the progress of the chicks' growth...

Scrub jay vacant nest with 2 chicks zoomed in Santa Clarita, Ca jcmdi.com
Chicks and 3rd egg
Scrub Jay nest documentary - female shading chicks
Mother shades chicks
Scrub Jay nest documentary - female drops back onto nest begging chicks
Growing chicks
Scrub Jay nest documentary - pair feeds chicks
Pair feeds chicks
Scrub Jay Nest Documenatry with chicks
Keeping chick warm
Scrub Jay Documentary parent stands over stretching chicks
Stretching chicks


While doing some work in the yard below the nest I ran across a few fat nightcrawlers in the dirt and wondered if the Scrub Jays might like a little snack. So, I placed one of them on a board near the nest and it didn't take long to get an answer... The worm was a hit! Interestingly, the father bird wasn't interested at all. He took a quick look and then flew off to wherever he did his usual shopping. Mother bird, on the other hand, was right there in short order to snap-up the grub. She had become somewhat accustomed to my presence around the nest, and was around most of the time with a bird's-eye view right from the nest. She ate quite a few worms, and I wondered if over-feeding her one type of food might be an issue, but apparently they have built-in preferential limits which prevent that. At some point she stopped coming down for the worms and went off to other places for different foods. That, combined with the father bird's shopping was probably enough to provide plenty of dietary variety. High resolution photos below...

Scrub Jay Documentary worm bait
Feeding worms
Scrub Jay Documentary worm bait
Feeding worms
Scrub Jay Documentary worm bait
Feeding worms
Scrub Jay Documentary worm bait
Feeding worms
Scrub Jay Documentary worm bait
Feeding worms
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On May 10th, 2015, the little birds, led by their parents, fledged the nest to finish growing up elsewhere. In these shots we see them leaving the nest. Even though they couldn't fly properly yet, they managed to make it to a nearby wooded area about 200 feet away where their parents started teaching them to forage and fly. After a couple of weeks in the new location they were nearly full-grown and flying around quite a bit. Unfortunately their conspicuous flight activities were noticed by a small hawk that was nesting nearby, and the inexperienced birds were easy targets. Two days later, both birds had been taken by the hawk. The parent birds seemed to mourn the loss for a week or two, but then got right back to work building a nest, much higher up in a tree adjecent to the old one. They scavenged nearly all the inner fibers from the old nest, leaving just a pile of tangled sticks, which the wind slowly began to scatter as we see in the remaining photos below...
Scrub Jay Documentary parent leaves chicks squawking stretching 2
Chicks leave nest
Scrub Jay Documentary chick exploring way outside nest
Chicks leave nest
Scrub Jay Documentary one chick left nest other standing on edge
Chicks leave nest
Scrub Jay nest disassembly  birds take apart their old nest using material to build a new one. JCMDI.COM
Decaying nest
Scrub Jay nest disassembly  birds take apart their old nest using material to build a new one. JCMDI.COM
Decaying nest
Scrub Jay nest remains slowly falling apart after birds remove inner lining for new nest elsewhere. JCMDI.COM
Decaying nest


The thumbnails below link to videos on YouTube. 1: A slow motion scene of the mother bird flying-in to grab some fresh worm. Filmed at 300fps (10x slower than real life). 2: When the birds had all the worms they could eat, the leftovers went to a hungry Western Fence Lizard, which was also filmed in 300fps slow motion. 3: Interestingly, some time later, father bird brought the severed hind-leg of a lizard home for dinner. It was quite a mouthful, and he ended-up tearing it apart in a short tug of war with one of the chicks. He fed the remaining part to the other chick. 4: A Scrub Jay seen foraging in the dirt in slow motion. Note how aggressive and powerful the bird is when digging for food...

Slow Motion Scrub Jay eating worm bait
Slo Mo eating a worm
Scrub Jay Documentary Lizard eats left-over worm bait
Slo Mo lizard eats worm
Scrub Jay feeds lizard leg to chicks
Chicks eat lizard leg
Slow Motion Scrub Jay foraging in dirt
Slow Motion Foraging
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Video Series Highlights: The player below will automatically play all 11 videos, running about 90 minutes. The series features the most interesting and action-filled scenes selected from over 1500 original clips, covering the time from just after the bird laid her eggs until the fledglings left the nest. You can watch this series directly on YouTube at this link or right here on the player below...

Full-Length Documentary Series: The player below is queued-up with all 120 videos, running about 9.5 hours. This long-version is recommended for hard-core birdwatchers, scientific/academic studies and anyone who is interested in observing these birds in great detail. The series contains a great many scenes of interesting behavior and close-up details covering the lives of these birds, from egg to fledging. You can watch this series directly on YouTube at this link or right here on the player below...

High resolution images (including the ones above) from this series are available as free (for non-commercial use) downloads on the JCMDI Free Photo pages linked below:

High resolution Scrub Jay image gallery - JCMDI Free Photos page 21
Free Photos Page 21
High resolution Scrub Jay image gallery - JCMDI Free Photos page 22
Free Photos Page 22
High resolution Scrub Jay image gallery - JCMDI Free Photos page 23
Free Photos Page 23
High resolution Scrub Jay image gallery - JCMDI Free Photos page 24
Free Photos Page 24
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Below are a few Scrub Jay video "odds and ends"...

Scrub Jay Nest Footage HD Time lapse B Reel
Nest Time Lapse
Scrub Jay Close-Up Footage
HD Close-Up
Scrub Jays Foraging in HD
HD Jays Foraging
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<A Scrub Jay enjoys the last of the evening sunshine
I hope you enjoyed the show!


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