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Blue Jays Notecard



Blue Jays  (Cyanocitta cristata)

The blue jay is a rowdy character—dominating bird feeders, raiding the nests of songbirds, and mobbing predators like cats, hawks and owls.  But this noisy, bold medium-sized bird also adds a flash of bright blue color to a cold winter day.  Being in the Corvid family with crows, ravens and magpies, jays are known for their intelligence and vast vocal repertoire.  Their common call is a sharp piercing jaay-jaay, which often attracts other jays. Most people are also familiar with the musical bell-like toolool-toolool and the wheedlee-wheedlee, which sounds like a squeaky gate.  Even the most skilled listener has probably been fooled and looked skyward for a calling red-tailed hawk, only to find the ornery blue jay sitting on a branch, mimicking predators to scare away competing birds.

Both sexes look identical, with a gray chest and black necklace, blue crest and back, and bright blue, white and black-barred wings and tail.  Their flight is strong and buoyant with rowing wingbeats, and their powerful black bill efficiently handles an omnivorous diet of eggs, insects, seeds, acorns and fruit.  They often cache food, filling their expandable throat patches with seeds, and hiding them, along with insects and acorns, in tree crevices and ground holes to locate later in the winter.

Blue jays thrive in woodlands, parks and suburbs and are year-round residents across the central and eastern U.S. and southern Canada.  During the fall, they gather in large flocks that roam around looking for food.  In the spring they loudly defend breeding territories but then become remarkably quiet while they set up an inconspicuous nest of twigs, bark, leaves and human objects like plastic and string.  The male feeds the female during courtship and helps incubate 4-5 eggs.

Artwork by Susan Bull Riley ©2010

Text by Kara Jean Hagedorn