I may be in the minority of people that feed birds but I love Blue Jays.  Whenever a neighbor or birding buddy makes a disparaging remark about a Blue Jay I counter with this quote from the Bent Life History series.

Bl.ue Jay

Blue Jay

“The blue jay is a strong, healthy-looking bird, noisy and boisterous.  He gives us the impression of being independent, lawless, haughty, even impudent, with a disregard for his neighbors’ rights and wishes: like Hotspur, as we meet him in Henry IV, part 1.

To be sure, the jay has his quiet moments, as we shall see, but his mercurial temper, always just below the boiling point, is ever ready to flare up into rage and screaming attack, or, like many another diplomat, beat a crafty retreat. He is a strikingly beautiful bird: blue, black, and white, big and strong, his head carrying a high, pointed crest which in anger shoots upward like a flame. Walter Faxon long ago told me of a distinguished visiting English ornithologist who was eager to see a live blue jay because he considered it the finest bird in the world. He was surprised to find that this beauty, as he called it, is one of our common birds.”

Blue Jays readily visit feeders for sunflower and suet. They are more willing to share space at feeders than some give them credit for.   A family has been making regular visits to the feeders in my back yard.  They are adapt at using window feeders and an upside-down suet feeder.

Blue Jay at window feeder.

Blue Jay at window feeder. The tail makes a nice prop.

 

Blue Jay at suet feeder.

Blue Jay at suet feeder.

 

Young blue jay begging for food.

Young begging for food.

 

Adult feeding young blue jay.

Adult feeding young.

Blue Jays have a mixed migration pattern. Some Blue Jays in the northern United States are permanent residents, while other members of the same population migrate south in the winter.

Blue Jays are members of the Corvid family, which includes crows and ravens. Corvids are among the smartest birds and Blue Jays are no exception. Their intelligence supports a variety of behaviors.

The Gardener
Like many birds, Blue Jays will cache food for later consumption. Acorns are a favorite food.  Blue Jays will bury acorns for consumption at a later date.  A single Blue Jay may hide 3,000 – 5,000 acorns in a season.  Some of these hidden acorns are not eaten and grow into a new oak tree.

At the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, oak trees advanced north again at a faster rate than would have been expected. One theory is that the acorn-hiding Blue Jays accelerated the northward expansion.

The Mimic
Blue Jays are best-known for their loud “jay” call.  They also give soft, easy-to-miss notes when communicating with other nearby Blue Jays, especially when around their nest. A queerieup and many other often strange calls are in their standard repertoire.

They frequently, and quite accurately, mimic the calls of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks.

The Hunter
While not a common behavior, Blue Jays will raid the nests of other birds, dining on eggs or young. They will rarely take small, adult birds.  I did once see a Blue Jay sitting on a large tree limb feeding on a Dark-eyed Junco.

The Protector
Blue Jays will loudly mob hawks or owls that invade a Blue Jays territory. Their loud calls announce to other birds in the neighborhood that a predator is in the area.

By the way, Blue Jays aren’t actually blue. The pigment in their feathers is brown. The feather structure causes light to refract, resulting in the blue color.

The next time you see a Blue Jay thank them for the all the oak tress they have planted, and marvel at their memory that can locate hundreds of buried acorns that were cached for later consumption.

References:
Quote from the Bent Life History quote was written by Winsor Marrett Tyler.

Oak Woodland Management – University of California

Blue Jay: Acorn Planters – Loyola University New Orleans

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