Birds of America – Everything You Need to Know About the Blue Jay

The Blue Jay (Latin name Cyanocitta Cristata) is a passerine bird, which is an ornithologists term for a bird that perches.  If you don’t live in America, you may have never heard of it.  If you live anywhere in the western United States of America or Southern Canada, then you are probably familiar with this pretty native bird.  But how much do you really know about it?

A Guide to the Blue Jay

Is it Blue?

Yes and no.  The blue feathers are not blue due to color pigmentation.  The feathers do have pigment but it is melanin, which isn’t blue, but brown.  The glorious blue color appears because the surface structure of the barbs on their feathers causes light to scatter through modified cells when it hits them.  If a blue feather is damaged or crushed, the blue color disappears!

The Blue Jay isn’t totally blue.  Its crest, back, wings and tail vary from lavender blue to mid blue.  It has a white face and off-white underbelly.  Blue Jays have a black collar around their necks which goes up across the sides of their heads.

The individual patterning of this black bridle varies tremendously and it is thought that it helps the birds to recognize each other.  The primary feathers on its wings are edged with black, blue and white.  They have black bills, legs and eyes.  There is no color difference between males and females.  The only way to tell the difference is that males are a tiny bit larger.

How big is it?

From beak to broad, rounded tail, the Blue Jay is 22 – 30 cm or 9 to 12 inches.  They weigh in at from 70 to 100 grams (2.47 – 3.53 ounces) and have a wingspan of 34 – 43 cm or 13 to 17 inches – so they’re pretty hard to miss!

The Crest

Blue Jays have a crest on the top of their heads.  This acts as an outward display of the bird’s emotion and as a warning to other birds.  If the Jay is aggressive or excited, the crest raises upwards to its full height.  If the bird is scared, the crest spreads outwards.  When it’s relaxed and calm, the crest stays flat against its head.

What do they eat?

Blue Jays are omnivorous which means that they eat ‘meat and veg’.  Their beaks are very strong so that they can crack open nuts and for crunching up seeds, grain and corn, which they hold in their feet.  They particularly like acorns and this is why they often live on the edge of wooded areas where oak trees tend to grow.  The strong beak also comes in handy for cracking through the exoskeletons of beetles.  They also enjoy grasshoppers and caterpillars.  They have the facility of a pouch in their throat for carrying items to either store elsewhere or to take to a place of safety to eat.

Do they migrate?

Yes, in huge numbers. They migrate in flocks of thousands and if you live near the Great Lakes or on the Atlantic coast you may have been lucky enough to witness this amazing sight. They have a strange migration pattern which is little understood. Some Blue Jays don’t migrate at all. It’s thought that younger birds are more likely to migrate than older ones, although older birds do migrate in huge numbers. Some Jays appear to migrate individually. No one knows why they choose to migrate when they do – or why the do it so erratically.

How can I attract them to my garden?

If you live in Florida, this could be difficult.  If Red-headed Woodpeckers, Florida Scrub-Jays and gray squirrels visit your garden, it will be hard to attract Blue Jays because they are strongly dominated by these other creatures.

The good news is that Blue Jays love bird feeders.  Because they are perching birds, they prefer tray style feeders or a hopper feeder fixed to a post.  They can’t manage well with hanging feeders because they’re just not designed to hang!  Put out plenty of seeds and nuts such as peanuts and sunflower seeds.  Suet is also a good choice.  If you’re thinking long-term, plant some acorns to provide oak trees for future generations.

Blue Jays are also attracted to birdbaths so having one of those will maximize your chances.

And the Flip Side of That is…..

Help – Blue Jays have taken over my garden!

These birds are very territorial during the summer months. However, once they have finished breeding, they will start gathering food for the winter months, filling their throat pouches and taking it elsewhere to stock up. At this point, they can invade your feeder and take over! You are actually very lucky to see these stunning birds in such profusion but if they really are a nuisance, try not putting any food out for a few days and they will soon get the message.

And Finally – A Few Interesting Blue Jay Facts…

  • The Blue Jay is great at mimicking the hawk calls – in particular, the Red Shouldered Hawk.  This could be to let other birds know that there’s a hawk about or it may be to deceive them into thinking that there’s a hawk around so that the BJ gets first pick of any available food!
  • Ornithologists have never reported Blue Jays making and using tools.  However, during one study, captive BJ’s used strips of newspaper as a tool to reach and rake food pellets that lay outside their cages.
  • The major league baseball team of Toronto is called the Toronto Blue Jays.
  • The oldest known wild Blue Jay lived to be at least 17 and a half years old.

Bird Watch HQ

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands" - Douglas Adams

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