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The Misunderstood Blue Jay

Updated on September 3, 2016
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Avid, self-taught gardener (I learn as problems arise), bird watcher, and nature lover.

The Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) with it's black mask, and it's aggressive manners may unwittingly draw undue attention to themselves. With this type of behavior, you would think that the bird had no degree of intelligence. If that is your thought, you are in for a big surprise.


Singing Blue Jay
Singing Blue Jay | Source

The Blue Jay’s Appearance

The Blue Jay has a pointed crest, with blue, white and black plumage. It has black barring and white patches on the wings and tail, with a black necklace with a whitish underside.

Though it is a songbird, it does offer noisy calls. Of which, the most notable is the jay-jay call.

They are an intelligent bird and hold a complex social system with a tight family bond (Not surprising, because they are in the family of the crow).


Quick Facts

  • Eggs: Lays 3 to 6 eggs
  • Colored Eggs: Blue, green or yellow with brown and grey spots
  • Length: 22 to 30 cm
  • Weight: 65 to 109 g.
  • Average Lifespan: 7 years
  • Predators to Adults: hawks, owls, falcons
  • Predators to Young: Squirrels, cats, snakes, American crows, raccoons, opossums, hawks
  • Susceptible to West Nile Disease
  • They love acorns (and according to natural history, they are credited with spreading the oak trees after the last glacial period.)


Eating Habits of the Blue Jay

Blue Jays mostly eat insects, mice, frogs, nuts, and seeds from trees, shrubs and from the ground. They are known to take their bounty and store it for later feeding.

This is where I feel the majority of Blue Jays are getting a bad rap, it had been said that these birds will eat eggs and nestlings of other birds. However, an extensive study indicated that this feeding habit was not common.

Mating Habits of the Jay

Blue Jays will mate for life. Their courtship will begin in early May each year. Usually a group of seven or more males will gather around one female. The female will fly off with the males in hot pursuit. Once the female lands in a different location, the males will begin to show off by nodding their heads up and down. It is then that the female will choose her mate. To strengthen the bond, the male will provide food to the female. This is an important attribute of the male, because it will be up to the male to supply food to both the female and young.



The Nest of the Blue Jay

The female and male Blue Jays will build their nest of twigs, grass and mud, with a lining of rootlets. The open cup nest will usually be located 10-25 feet above the ground nestled in a crotch or thick outer branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree.

Though both the female and male will gather the material for the nest, it is the female that will do most of the building. Amazingly, these birds will fly great distances to obtain rootlets, which they find from recently dug ditches, fresh graves in cemeteries, or newly fallen trees. However, they will not hesitate to abandon their nest if they detect a predator to close for comfort.


Nesting Duties of Male and Female Jays

The female will incubate the eggs, while the mate provides her food during the incubation. During the first 8-12 days after the nestlings hatch, the female will keep the young covered and warm, while the duty of the male is to feed both the female and young.

After the 8 to 12 days of protecting the young, the female will begin to help with the food gathering. However, the male will continue to provide most of the nourishment for both the female and young.

There is some indication that the nestlings may wander from the nest 1 to 3 days after they fledge (young has feathers and strong muscles that is sufficient for flight). If the young do wander from the nest, the female or male will not feed them unless they are in the nest, no matter how loudly they call for their parents help.

When the young are 17-21 days old, the family will leave the nest together. However, the young will remain with the parents from one to 2 months.


Strange Migration Habits of the Blue Jay

Most Blue Jays remain throughout the winter in all parts of their range. Which include the area from the Midwest states to the East Coast states to as far south as Florida. Do they ever migrate? Yes, strange as it may seem, it is a sporadic migration at best. Let me explain.

The young jays may migrate south the first year, then stay north the next winter. Then, for whatever reason, may migrate south again the next year. At this time, there is no clear reasoning as to why they migrate every other year, or what triggers the sporadic migration. In fact, the Blue Jay migration habits are still a mystery.

Though one may be quick to judge this bird as a bandit and a mischievous troublemaker, I do believe that this is an intelligent bird that is more or less misunderstood. And yes, I do welcome this bird's visit to my backyard.



Jays Methods of Communications

The jays have two forms of communication, vocally and with their body. First let me explain how they communication with body language.

By positioning of the crest, the bird can let other jays know the level of aggression that they may be feeling. For example, if the crest is held down, the lower the bird's aggression, if the crest is high, the higher the aggressive level.

Just like the crow, the Blue Jay is an excellent mimicker. They can learn to imitate human speech and meowing cats, as well as, the Red-tailed hawk.

The Jay's mimicking calls of the Red-tailed hawk provide information to other jays that a hawk is flying about, or it can be used to deceive other species that a predator is present. This tactic allows them to approach feeders, while other birds scatter for cover from the sounding predator.

Most bird watchers dislike Blue Jays because of their aggressive behavior. However, studies show that they are far less aggressive than the Red-bellied Woodpecker, Grackles, Red Headed Woodpecker or the gray squirrel.

I have noticed that even though the Blue Jay may try to drive other birds away from the feeder, it does not take long for the other birds to learn this bird’s antics. So do not fear that the other songbirds you have frequenting your feeders will disappear, they will not.

References

Animal Diversity Web -- http://animaldiversity.org/site/accounts/information/Cyanocitta_cristata.html

Blue Jay, Life History -- https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/blue_jay/lifehistory

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