The Blue Jay

By Julie Jansen

Blue Jay
Blue Jay
by Julie Jansen
by Julie Jansen

This common, large songbird is familiar to many people, with its perky crest; blue, white, gray, and black plumage; and noisy calls. As with peacocks, blue jay feathers are actually brown, but appear blue because of light interference from the feather structure. If the feather is crushed, the blue color disappears.

Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems, and have tight family bonds. They often mate for life, remaining with their social mate throughout the year. Only the female incubates; her mate provides all her food during incubation.

Blue Jays can imitate calls of their predators, especially red-tailed hawks, and may use these calls to test whether or not these predators are in the area. They will also occasionally use these calls to scare other birds away from food sources like bird feeders.

There are four subspecies of blue jay: the northern blue jay, which live in Canada and the northern U.S. and has fairly dull plumage and pale blue coloration; the coastal blue jay, which lives on the southern coast of the eastern United States and is vivid blue; the interior blue jay, which lives throughout the midwest U.S.; and the Florida blue jay, the smallest subspecies, which is similar in color to the northern blue jay.

Blue jays have very strong black bills, which can crack nuts and acorns. They will eat almost anything, but especially like to eat corn, grains, berries, seeds, insects, and peanuts.

Blue Jays carry food in their throat and upper esophagus—an area often called a "gular pouch." They may store 2-3 acorns in the pouch, another one in their mouth, and one more in the tip of the bill. In this way they can carry off 5 acorns at a time to store for later feeding. Six birds with radio transmitters each cached 3,000-5,000 acorns one autumn. Their fondness for acorns and their accuracy in selecting and burying acorns that have not been infested with weevils are credited with spreading oak trees after the last glacial period.

They may not have the most beautiful song, but they play an important role in our ecosystem.

Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology Submitted by Julie Jansen