Be Your Own Birder

Weekly Bird: Blue Jay

This week’s bird may be familiar to many, but you should never have the blues when you see a blue jay – there’s a lot of interesting trivia to enjoy about these birds! How well do you really know them?

Blue Jay

Blue Jay – Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

Blue Jay Fun Facts
  • The blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) is a member of the Corvidae bird family with other jays, crows, and ravens, as well as magpies, magpie-jays, rooks, treepies, and nutcrackers.
  • Of the 50 birds in the Corvidae family that have the word “jay” as part of their common name, 44 of them also have some sort of blue plumage, and with its white underparts and barred wings and tail, the “official” blue jay isn’t even the bluest of them all – that honor belongs to the unicolored jay, which is an overall bold blue with a darker face mask.
  • Blue jays aren’t really blue, but their feathers are actually brown. It is the feather structure that scatters light particles and causes us to see the birds as blue.
  • While the blue jay does stay in its North American range year-round, there are some migratory blue jays that spread further north to breed and head slightly west and south after the breeding season.
  • There are four different subspecies of blue jays, with subtle differences in size and the brightness of the plumage. In all subspecies, males and females look alike, though males are slightly larger than females.
  • Blue jays are fair mimics, and many of these mouthy birds learn to perfect the calls of local hawks, including red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered hawks. They use these calls to scare other birds away from feeding areas so they can take advantage of the food source without disruption. They may also warn other blue jays with these alarm calls.
  • These are monogamous birds that are believed to mate for life, and a successful breeding pair of blue jays will usually stay together until one partner dies.
  • In late summer and early fall, it isn’t unusual to see a bald blue jay. While this is often related to the molting cycle of the birds, other factors that can influence their baldness include feather mites or illness. The feathers will grow back within a few weeks.
  • Blue jays are omnivorous and will eat seeds, insects, berries, grains, and nuts, as well as small lizards, frogs, carrion, and eggs. They are opportunistic feeders and will change their diet throughout the year as different foods are more abundant.
  • These birds cache nuts and seeds during the late summer and fall, and will revisit their stash in the winter when other food supplies run low. Seeds and nuts that aren’t eaten over the winter will often sprout into new trees, helping reforest areas and keep an ongoing food supply available for the birds and other wildlife.
  • Blue jays are aggressive and will mob larger birds, including raptors, as well as other predators that threaten their nests or feeding areas. They will even attack pets or humans that get too close.
  • A blue jay’s top flight speed is roughly 20-25 miles per hour (32-40 kilometers per hour).
  • Blue jays are beloved as mascots for sports teams and schools, including the Toronto Blue Jays MLB team and Johns Hopkins University. The blue jay is also the official provincial bird of Prince Edward Island in Canada.
Add the Blue Jay to Your Life List

Blue jays are relatively easy to see within their range, so long as you visit some variety of forested habitat, preferably with nut-bearing trees such as oaks, beeches, or hickories, as well as pines. You might find them in wilder areas, but blue jays are even easier to find in orchards, parks, and gardens, anywhere these trees are abundant. These birds are bold and easy to spot, and listening for their loud calls can help you find them quickly. They also come easily to feeding stations where sunflower seeds, cracked corn, suet, and nuts are offered, and peanuts are a special favorite. Use tray feeders or specialized peanut feeders to attract blue jays, and be sure to have a water source available for them as well.

Learn More About the Blue Jay

These resources are good authorities on all things about the blue jay…

Bald Blue Jay

Bald Blue Jay – Photo by Ken Gibson

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