Table of Contents
If you are living in Canada or some areas of the United States, then you might be familiar with the loud calls of this bird.
You might also be familiar with their distinguishable blue-colored feathers as they visit your backyard to feed or get a drink of water.
These loud and beautiful creatures, more often than not, are blue jays. Many may know them only as the namesake of the Canadian sports team, but there is a lot to learn about these hardy avians.
This is a detailed look at one of the prettiest natures that you can commonly find in both forests and residential areas. The spotlight for today is the blue jay, a playful species that is smarter than your average bird.
Blue Jay Classification
Blue jays have had different descriptions since they were first described in 1731. In Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahamas, the blue jay was described as Pica glandaria caerulea cristata, translated as blue-crested magpie in Latin.
It was then described as Corvus cristatus by Carl Linnaeus and as Cyanocorax cristatus by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1758 and 1838, respectively. These names describe the blue crest of the jay, one of its most distinguishable features.
The blue jay is currently known by its scientific name Cyanocitta cristata, coined by Hugh Edwin Strickland in 1845. This literally means “blue chatterer” in Greek.
Blue jays are passerine birds, classified as such due to the arrangement of their feet which allows for perching. They belong to the family Corvidae and the genus Cyanocitta. This makes species such as crows and magpies their close relations.
There are four known subspecies of blue jays, namely:
- Northern Blue Jay
- Coastal Blue Jay
- Interior Blue Jay
- Florida Blue Jay
These species vary slightly in size and are distributed in different locations across Canada and the United States. The Florida Blue Jay is the exception as it can be exclusively found in Southern Florida.
The different subspecies share the same blue and white color hues, although the brightness of the plumage will vary from species to species.
Usual Appearance of Blue Jays
Blue jays are colored blue and white. Their blue coloration can range from lavender-like to light blue and can be found all over its body in areas such as the back, wings, tail, and crest.
Some parts of the wing and tail are black, as well as their eyes, beak, face, throat, and legs.
It is interesting to note that blue jays’ feathers are blue not because of pigmentation but rather because of the effect that it has when light scatters on the surface of the feathers.
When crushed or seen from an angle, the feathers actually have a brownish hue. This is due to the melanin pigmentation found within the feathers. This is typical amongst other blue-hued birds as well.
Blue jays typically weigh between 70 to 100 grams and measure 9 to 12 inches from bill to tail, depending on the season and the species. Males are typically larger than females.
These birds can be distinguished by their crest. This crest rises when excited, agitated, or threatened. When relaxed, it is flat on the head. Theories have been raised that raised crests give the impression of them being larger to avoid predators and other threats.
Individual blue jays may also be distinguished by the black plumage on their face. These often serve as facial features and may be used to distinguish one blue jay from another.
Blue jays are known to have a variety of calls, ranging from jay-jay calls, squeaks, clicks, and piping calls. They have also been known to be able to mimic the screams of predators, specifically the red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks.
Blue jays reach sexual maturity after about a year. The typical life expectancy of blue jays is around 7 years, although there have been records of blue jays reaching 17 up to 26 years of age, the latter of which died through unnatural causes.
As such, it is unknown as to how long blue jays will live up to in the absence of predation, accidents, lack of food, or other means aside from old age.
Where are Blue Jays Found?
Blue jays can be found from Southern Canada to Eastern and Central United States. They can often be found along forest edges as well as around residential areas and parks where there are lots of trees and other food sources.
Blue jays prefer oak, beech, or pine woods, although they prefer areas where there are more deciduous woods.
Due to the increase and decrease of trees in different locations along its main areas of habitation, blue jays are known to rise and fall in population. They may also move to different areas and act as residents in these locations.
This is also the reason why blue jays become regulars in the area and more common in places such as east of the Rocky Mountains, Manitoba, Quebec, and Nova Scotia where previous blue jay populations were not quite as large.
Do Blue Jays Migrate?
Blue jays are pretty hardy creatures, even in winter. They can often survive harsh winters without the need to migrate. They have even evolved and adjusted to the deforestation of their previous habitats with only slight declines in population throughout the years and decades.
It is currently a mystery as to why some blue jays migrate while others do not. Some blue jays stay in one location their entire lives, while others will move hundreds of miles during the breeding or winter seasons.
There have also been cases of non-regular migratory patterns. Scientists have observed migration during one winter, staying north the next, and then migrating again the following year.
It has also been observed that younger blue jays tend to migrate more than adults. Migrating flocks, young and old blue jays alike can range anywhere between 5 to 250 individual birds.
Estimates of blue jays that migrate are around 20% of the total population, according to studies.
While it is not fully known what may trigger migration in blue jays, it is accepted that this type of behavior is based on need. As to what thresholds are acceptable to deem migration either necessary or unnecessary still requires further research.
What Do Blue Jays Eat?
Blue jays are considered omnivores with around 70-80% of their diets consisting of plant material. They feed mostly on seeds, nuts, grains, acorns, and various fruits and berries.
They can also feed on human food products such as bread, as well as carrion. They can also eat insects, eggs, and nestlings of other birds, and even rats, frogs, and other small vertebrates.
Blue jays have been known to store food for future consumption. This holds true especially when winter is approaching. Blue jays have multiple hiding spots and may relocate food whenever they feel necessary.
Intelligence and Behavior of Blue Jays
Blue jays are considered to be very intelligent birds, known to trick predators and other birds in order to escape predation or to steal food.
They are also very curious and are attracted to shiny tools, often playing with things such as aluminum foil or bottle caps until they lose interest.
Blue jays have been observed to use tools and have been known to be able to open cage doors to escape. They often use their beaks to open nuts while it is being held by their feet.
Blue jays are also bold, aggressive, and very territorial. They have been known to attack predators, chase other birds away, and even attack humans on some occasions. In some instances, they have also been known to attack and kill smaller birds and bats.
These birds are also known to have tight social circles, seldom straying away from their flock.
How Do Blue Jays Breed?
Blue jays often mate for life. Mating season is from March to May and may even be extended to July. Nests are often found on branches 10 to 30 feet aboveground, but in a pinch, they may use mailboxes and even nests of other birds.
Their nests are composed of different materials that they have foraged such as twigs, bark, and moss. They may also include paper, cloth, feathers, and mud to complete the structure.
The male and female build the nest and bring food for the nestlings. Blue jays typically lay 4 to 5 each per clutch, with the female doing most if not all of the incubation.
The incubation process takes about 16 to 18 days, and the nestlings leave the nest about 17 to 21 days after they have hatched from their eggs.
Are Blue Jays Considered Endangered?
Blue jays are considered a Least Concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This means that these animals do not need conservation efforts nor have any immediate threats of extinction or endangerment.
Estimates have placed blue jay populations in the wild at around 17 million birds. However, their population has declined by over a quarter since 1966, based on research done by the North American Breeding Bird Survey.
Threats to blue jays, aside from predation, include climate change and deforestation. Migratory birds may also suffer premature deaths due to collisions with man-made objects like oil platforms or tall buildings.
The West Nile virus has also affected blue jay populations, with this being attributed as the main reason for the steep decline in population in recent decades.
There have also been many blue jay deaths caused by dog or cat attacks, especially in homes where blue jays tend to stop to feed or drink.
Can I Keep a Blue Jay as a Pet?
It is illegal to own blue jays or keep them as pets in both the US and Canada, due to wildlife and migratory laws. It is also illegal to transport and keep blue jays in countries with similar regulations.
Alternatives for those who want to keep blue jays as pets are white or black-throated magpie jays as they can be kept as pets legally. In addition, they are not as temperamental or aggressive as blue jays.
Nothing can stop you from attracting blue jays to come to your yard or garden, though. This can easily be done by placing bird feeders and place nuts and seeds on them. These are foods that blue jays love and would feed on if they are within range.
You can also install larger birdhouses and bird baths to entice blue jays to visit. Once blue jays have landed, you can calmly observe them and, once they have become accustomed to your presence, they may even be hand-fed.
This, however, is not guaranteed and they may attack you if they perceive you as a threat. As such, care should always be taken and you should always remember that blue jays are wild animals and should never be considered as tamed or domesticated.
Blue Jays in Popular Culture
The blue jay is quite popular as a symbol. Perhaps the most recognizable use of the blue jay is by the Toronto Blue Jays of the Major Baseball League organization. Aside from the name, they have Ace the Blue Jay serving as their mascot.
Schools such as Creighton University, Elmhurst University, and John Hopkins University also have the blue jay as their official mascot.
The Government of Prince Edward in Canada has likewise adopted the blue jay as their official provincial bird, a move that they made back in 1977.
In folklore, blue jays were believed to have created the earth by bringing dirt and creating land when it was still covered in water.
In others, they are believed to be servants of the devil, gathering wood and twigs for their version of hell where wicked men are burnt.
While common, blue jays are definitely interesting creatures, with a personality that certainly distinguishes them from other birds.
It is also nice to appreciate these birds and their wonderful qualities as they have earned their place in nature – and our neighborhoods – with their tenacity and resiliency.