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The Gregarious Blue Jay, Facts and Other Stories
A Familiarity to Most People
“Thief! Thief! Thief!” or “Blurd-a-lert! Blurda-lert!”
Who recognizes those sounds without even glancing at the pictures? Why, just about everyone east of the Rockies knows those couple of familiar sounds. There are other varieties of sounds, too, loud ones, that make up the vocalizations of the Blue Jay.
Once a forest dweller, this bird has adapted to city living, gardens, parks, and fringed forest dwelling. Like the robin, some of these populations remain in areas year round, while more northern birds might head in a southerly direction in flocks of 50-100. Rather common despite frequent clear-cutting in eastern forests, its range has been heading northwesterly for years. This bird is very easy to identify, with its purple-blue coloring, purplish-blue crest, and large size.
This noisy pest has been known to save the lives of other animals by loudly screaming at the sight of any potential predator within a half mile radius. They add more color and excitement than most native birds that I know. In comparison to their relatives, ravens and crows, they have relatively short wings, which only reach to the tail’s base. Seemingly, their flight is more colorful, and they dart around tree branches at rather high speed. Naturally, they use this skill to their advantage when people become annoyed with their raucous chatter or after they steal eggs from other bird’s nests. However, when all said and done, all these related birds do much more good than harm.
Living Arrangements and Feeding
Jays are usually in flocks or pairs, and are especially gregarious after nesting season. They prefer to live in oak or beech trees, but quite frankly, anything will do, as long as it is near food or water. They enjoy screaming at hunters, owls, cats, snakes, and hawks primarily, but they will also do the same around anything that they deem out of place. They are omnivorous, but the better part of their diet is vegetable and plant matter, most notably pine seeds, acorns, berries, fruit, and corn. Their protein is derived from frogs, snails, eggs and young of other birds, insects, and small reptiles and animals. They are responsible for starting many oak forests, as many of their acorns that they cache in the ground for winter use are never recovered again.
Nesting and the Young
Blue jays are monogamous and solitary nesters, though several mates are known to be kept for many years. The male feeds the female during courtship.
Incubation is around 17 days and is accomplished by both sexes, though the female is usually in charge. They have one brood yearly in the northern climes and two or three in the south.
Feathered and older orphaned young are just like their parents when feeding. They are never silent! They are always chattering most of the time when they are awake.
A Jay Experience
A few years ago, in central PA, I recall a couple of jays having a physical disagreement in winter. One was knocked on his back, and was unable to extricate himself from the snow. He stopped moving. To prevent a fatal outcome, I picked him up and uprighted him. He was so dazed, that he was unable to fly properly, striking the house. I then placed him in some shrubbery where I could observe him. He stayed put for approximately an hour, then flew off. Luckily, a disaster was avoided.
Favorite Foods and a Factoid
Jays will visit your feeders if you provide peanuts either shelled or unshelled, suet, black oil sunflower seeds, and cracked nuts. They also enjoy a birdbath or two.
These birds are great imitators, like the mockingbird. I have known them to sound like hawks and owls. Most of the time, they are trying to get the smaller birds to hide, so they can get the prime food from feeders. It sure works!
© 2012 Deb Hirt