Be Your Own Birder

Bird of the Week: Blue Jay

Mondays might be days to get the blues, with the weekend gone and the work week beginning, but there’s no reason for sorrow about this week’s featured bird. When you see a blue jay, that bright bit of blue color shouldn’t make you sad, it should perk your day right up. I know it always makes my day more colorful!

Blue Jay

Blue Jay – Photo by NPS | N. Lewis

Name: Blue Jay
Scientific Name: Cyanocitta cristata
Scientific Family: Corvidae

Habitat: Adaptable both in forested regions as well as urban and suburban areas where mature trees are present. Prefers more open woodlands and forest edges, including scrub areas and overgrown woodlots, as well as similar developed habitats such as parks, cemeteries, golf courses and school yards. Oak trees are particularly favored because of their acorn crops.

Range: Year-round in eastern North America, from southern and central Canada to Florida and eastern regions of Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Some populations spread very slightly further west in winter, particularly in Wyoming, Montana and Texas, with occasional sightings even further west.

Blue jays are one of the easiest-to-recognize birds for both birders and non-birders alike. The rich blue upperparts, barred wings and tail, gray-white belly, black necklace, white throat and jaunty blue crest are all very distinct. These are relatively large songbirds, and they readily make their presence known with loud, demanding calls. Males and females look alike, and juveniles share the same markings but with a fluffier, less developed appearance, stubbier crest and shorter tail until they mature.

The calls of blue jays are always very easy for me to identify – I’ve heard them since my childhood, when they would land on the garage roof outside my bedroom window and squawk insistently for more peanuts, which my mother would occasionally toss out onto the gravel driveway. While this may seem charming or seem like it would be good behavior to witness, it isn’t what any school-age child wants to hear at seven in the morning all summer long – funny enough, I never remember the jays making much of a fuss during the school year.

As I’ve learned more as a birder, I’ve learned more about the intricate calls of blue jays. Now, I regularly hear the squeaky door calls of my backyard jays letting me know – not too subtly – that there aren’t enough peanuts on my patio (are there ever enough peanuts?). I’ve also heard these birds mimic different hawks, as well as scold one another vociferously over whose tree, or nut, or patch of grass, belongs to whom.

The antics of these birds certainly bring joy and entertainment to my backyard along with their never-ending appetites. What do they bring to yours? Share your sightings and stories in the comments!

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