Bird of the Week #8: Blue Jay

Blue Jay

This week was supposed to be the Baltimore Oriole, as I was hoping to have some of the special little guys visit my oriole feeder, but it’s now been over a month and not a single one has dropped by. If they start coming by, I will absolutely add them back to the schedule as they are beautiful, unique, and interesting birds.

But this week we are going to visit the Blue Jay, one of my favorite birds and an interesting critter all on its own. I am actually quite excited to have Blue Jays as they were not originally on the schedule because I had no pictures of them. I was so happy a few weeks ago when a Blue Jay finally stopped by to munch and even more excited when a Blue Jay was the first bird to pose for my new camera.

Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about the birds!

The most surprising fact you’ll learn about Blue Jays is that they are corvids, meaning they are in the same family as crows and ravens. People don’t typically think of Blue Jays as being related to crows, as they’re usually bunched in with other more typical songbirds, but once you really start to look, you’ll understand why they’re definitely related to crows.

Blue Jay Makes a Face
Blue Jays are some of the most intelligent birds to visit your feeders!

For one, Blue Jays are highly intelligent birds. Studies on Blue Jay intelligence haven’t been done quite as extensively as on crows, but these birds have been observed using tools in captivity, which is a trait generally associated with smarter animals. They also have a diverse range of communication, much of which is not fully understood. In addition, young Blue Jays have been observed picking shiny things and playing with them like they’re toys. Since there’s really no benefit to the Jays doing this, it shows an advanced form of emotional intelligence in that the bird is seemingly doing it just for fun.

Blue Jays have extremely diverse diets, though large seed and nuts seem to be their favorite. Their favorite seed seems to be shelled peanuts, so offering peanuts is the easiest way to get them to drop by. When Blue Jays drop by, I usually observe them stuffing their bills full of peanuts and then flying off to eat them in the safety of a nearby tree. This is another behavior that I believe speaks to their intelligence, as they seem to have the ability to plan ahead.

Besides seed, Blue Jays will eat practically anything else. They’ll eat small rodents, garbage, fruits, and very rarely other birds. Blue Jays reportedly can be aggressive toward other birds at feeders and have a bad reputation among some birders. I have not observed Blue Jays exhibiting bad behaviors and I have yet to find a reason to see them as unwanted. In fact, I see quite the opposite as they’re highly entertaining birds to watch.

I mentioned Blue Jay communication earlier and while they aren’t particularly pretty singers, their communication is interesting nonetheless. The most common call you’ll hear is a shrill “Hey! Hey!” that almost seems like it was made to announce that they’re coming. Another one you might see is a whooping call where they bounce up and down while they do it. You only see multiple jays doing it in groups and no one is quite sure why they do it. If you get a chance to see it, it’s quite funny to watch.

They’ve also been observed imitating hawk calls to scare other birds away from food. I have yet to see them do this personally, but it doesn’t surprise me. Blue Jays are so clever!

Speaking of funny, when Blue Jays go through their annual molts, they’ll often lose all the feathers on their heads. So if you see a bald Blue Jay flying around, don’t worry about it, it’s fine.

Blue Jay with a mouth full of food
Blue Jays are absolute gluttons for peanuts

Blue Jays won’t use your bird houses and instead use bowl-style nests in trees. They typically lay between three and six eggs, with only the female sitting on them. The male will take care of bringing food to the female as she broods. Blue Jays mate for life.

Blue Jays are well-known birds, as they’re quite pretty and frequent visitors to back yards and parks all over the central and eastern United States. Despite this, no US states have made the Blue Jay their state bird. I find this perplexing as the Northern Cardinal gets seven states calling it their state bird. Cardinals are great, but they should share!

I already touched on Blue Jay diet, but if you’re wanting to attract them, I’ll repeat that Blue Jays seem to prefer peanuts over other seeds. The best way to attract them is with a platform feeder, as they’re larger birds and might have a tougher time accessing tube feeders or feeder made for smaller birds. If you’re sitting outside birdwatching, you will hear the Blue Jay before you see them as they will make that signature “hey!” call to announce themselves.

I love Blue Jays, do you? Tell me about your experience with them!

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