A 'Family' Bird - The Blue Jay
What a Noisy Beauty!
This bird screams on top of its lungs when it is agitated about something. The sound ‘jaaaye’ ‘jaaaye’ being the familiar alarm sound that is raised by the Blue Jay, when it anticipates danger. As the excitement level of the bird increases, the delivery of the sound too is accelerated.
Like most people, I too first heard this bird, and then saw it. It was indeed a pretty sight to see this bird in my backyard. There were two of them and they each came in turn to the feeder to awkwardly flap and perch on the feeder, just for a fraction of a second and then fly out with a peanut in the beak. I managed to click one photograph of this awkward but successful perch. Our feeder is not the ideal one for large birds, but has been monopolised by the large birds this summer; first by the common grackle when we had wild bird feed on it, and now by the Blue Jays, when we switched to shelled peanuts. With the peanut in its beak, these birds would then fly out from the feeder to the fence; sit on it and try to swallow the peanut in to their throat. It would then come back for more and do the same routine. Sometimes when the peanut was too big to be swallowed even with the beak turned vertically up, this intelligent bird would lower the beak, put the peanut between its two feet, peck away with its bill to break the peanut into a smaller and more manageable size, and then swallow it into the throat. Observation followed by research tells me that the bird can carry a large number of nuts in its throat/ upper oesophagus or the ‘gular pouch’. These nuts are basically being picked up to be transported to a hidden location for storage, when food is abundantly available; and consumption later, when food may not be available.
This Feeder and Blue Jays
Appearance and Behaviour
These beautiful birds have a blue crest on the head. Most of the plumage on the underside and face is white, but the top of the tail and the wings are blue. It would be interesting to know that this bird derives its name from its colour and its trademark ‘jaaaye’ 'jaaaye' sound. There is a black collar around the throat and head. The wings of the bird have a mix of blue, black and white feathers that are arranged to appear beautiful; the colour combination is such. The not too long but strong bill, feet, legs and eyes of the bird are all black. The Blue Jays pair for life and the male and female Blue Jays look alike; though the male is just slightly larger than the female. The average size of the bird is about 11 inches (between 9 to 12 inches generally), with a much larger wingspan of about 16 inches.
The Blue Jays are known to be intelligent birds with complex social systems and tight family bonds. It has a distinctive crest on the head that is used as a communication tool by the bird to convey its state of mind. Research brings out the fact that when the bird is excited or aggressive; the crest is raised in to an erect position, making a prominent peak. The crest is scattered out in all directions when the bird is feeling frightened. Under normal circumstances, when the bird is relaxed or when feeding, the crest is laid flat on the head, as can be seen in the photograph below.
Beautiful Large Wings and Tail
Blue Jays Habitat
Blue jays are natural forest dwellers, and are common in much of eastern and central North America. Blue Jays are found in all kinds of forests but especially near oak trees, as oaks provide the birds with food as also a place to build its nest. Also, these birds are more abundant near forest edges rather than deep inside the forest. Since these birds are highly adaptable, they can also be found in urban and suburban areas (like in our location in Ontario) where oaks and/ or bird feeders, with the right kind of feed, can be found. It is believed that most birds in the northern limits, especially the younger birds, migrate south in the winter, but there is no set pattern to this. The migration/ range map of the birds is shown. However, the migration pattern of these birds is not very clear to the scientists, as it does not follow any set pattern. It has been concluded after studies that most birds are residents of the same area throughout the year. These social birds are generally found as couples, like the ones visiting my backyard, or in family groups, or small flocks.
Courtship and Family Orientation of Blue Jays
I am reproducing a very interesting paragraph that I found about the courtship behaviour of the Blue Jay, at Pennsylvania State University website. The link is attached for anyone interested, http://www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/bluejay.htm . “Courtship in blue jays begins in February and, like most of the other aspects of their lives, involves complex group behaviors and displays. A group of three to ten individuals forms in the late winter. The focus of this group is a single female whose activities determines the behavior of the group. When the focus female flies, the group flies. When the focus females lands, the groups lands, etc. When the group is flying, its individuals make a staggering amount of noise. When they land, there is a moment of silence and stillness which is then broken by aggressive head bobbing and feather fluffing on the parts of the males. As the days pass the size of the courtship group gets smaller until there is a single pair of birds (the focus female and a single male) remaining. This pair then displays a quiet sequence of feather fluffing and ritualistic feeding behaviors away from the on-going noise of other courtship groups that are preludes to actual mating”. Actual mating and the start of a family are the hallmark of the Blue Jays family orientation.
Blue Jays family orientation is evident in their nesting behaviour. Firstly they mate for life. The male and the female both gather the material and build the open cup nest with twigs, grass, mud and rootlets. The nest is built high above the ground, in the thick forked branches of any specie of tree, away from predators. While both build the nest together, the male does more of the gathering and the female more of the nest building. The female lays 2 – 7 eggs and incubates the eggs for the 17 – 18 day incubation period. The male provides food for the female during this entire period. The eggs hatch into helpless nestlings that have their eyes closed. The nestling period after hatching of the eggs is about 17 – 21 days, of which for the first 8 – 12 days, the female broods the nestlings with the male providing for the female and the nestlings. The female thereafter shares with the food collection, but the male continues to provide more food than the female. These birds are very protective of their nests and nestlings. Birds are known to be quite aggressive and raise a loud alarm that helps in warning and collecting the others around. They have also been known to dive at predators like owls, hawks, squirrels, snakes, cats, etc. either singly or as a group. The juveniles stay with the parents for a few months until the winter, and then move on.
Blue Jays are Mainly Vegetarian Birds
Blue jays diet is mainly vegetarian and consists of acorns, nuts and seeds. The best way to attract these birds into your backyard is to lay out sunflower seeds and peanuts in an open tray feeder. Blue Jays also eat some non vegetarian food like small insects, grasshoppers, caterpillars, etc. and are sometimes known to eat eggs or nestlings. This last part of the previous sentence is a little misleading, as a study that examined 530 stomachs of the bird found eggs and nestlings in only six of them. The Blue Jay has been maligned a lot because of this fact, but to its defence it should be said that this is not very common and is at best, a very rare occurrence. The study showed that the major part (78 %) of the stomach contents were vegetarian and consisted of acorns, nut, fruits and grains; and the balance 22 % were insects. This bird has been credited with the spreading of oak trees since the glacial times, because of its food eating and storage habits. The oak acorn is this bird's favourite nut.
Trying to Swallow a Whole Shelled Peanut
Blue Jay in my opinion is a beautiful, intelligent, noisy, and family oriented bird that can teach us a lot about courtship, workload sharing and family values.