Blue jays are an intelligent species in the Corvidae family. They are related to crows, ravens, rooks, and magpies. These birds are named for, and easily recognized by, their uniquely colorful plumage. Their striking blue feathers and triangular crest are almost as distinguishing as their raucous calls. Read on to learn about the blue jay.
Description of the Blue Jay
These jays are relatively small, and typically have a maximum wingspan of 17 inches or so. They are primarily blue, with white undersides and chests. A black, U–shaped chinstrap runs down the sides of their faces and under their throats.
This black band also runs behind the crest of feathers at the top of their heads. They do not display sexual dimorphism, which means that you cannot easily tell male from female by looking at them.
Interesting Facts About the Blue Jay
While these birds are relatively common, and easily recognized, most people don’t know much else about them. These intelligent and colorful corvids are worth learning a little more about.
- Structural Coloration – Unlike flamingos, which get their bright coloration from pigment that is acquired through their diet, blue jays’ color comes from structural coloration. This means that the color comes from the way the light passes through and reflects off of the feathers. If a blue feather is crushed, it destroys this structure, and the color disappears.
- Omnivores, Sort of – While these birds are considered omnivores, and will eat meat in addition to plant matter, their primary diet is seeds. They are known to eat the eggs of other birds, which tends to give them a hated reputation, but this behavior actually occurs quite uncommonly.
- Monogamy – When a blue jay chooses a mate, he chooses for life. For the most part, these birds choose lifelong pairs to breed with. They mate with the same partner every year until one of the partners dies.
- Anting – While most birds dislike the taste of ants, blue jays will happily gobble them up, with a few steps first. They rub the ants against their feathers, causing them to excrete their formic acid defense. Once all the acid is out the ants taste much better, and the birds eat them!
Habitat of the Blue Jay
These birds inhabit a wide variety of habitats. Most of the time they are restricted to areas with plenty of trees. In their Florida range, they live primarily in pine forests, while in Canada they prefer spruce-fir forests.
Their sweet spot appears to be forests with plenty of trees, but not too much. They commonly live in mixed woodland forests with beech trees and oak trees. Urban areas are also easily inhabited, as long as parks and gardens contain enough trees to nest in.
Distribution of the Blue Jay
There are four different subspecies of blue jays spread across North America. The northern subspecies live in Canada and the northern U.S., all the way down into Virginia. The coastal subspecies range from North Carolina to Texas, but is absent in the southern parts of Florida.
The Florida subspecies live in the area of southern Florida that the coastal subspecies is absent from. Finally, the interior subspecies lives inland to the north of Texas.
Diet of the Blue Jay
These creatures have very strong beaks, which are built perfectly for cracking open nuts. This is because nuts and seeds make up the bulk of their diet. Some commonly eaten food items include corn, acorns, grains, berries, fruits, insects, peanuts, and virtually any table scraps that they can get a hold of. Occasionally they will prey on nestlings and eggs of other bird species, but this is uncommon, especially in areas with plentiful food.
Blue Jay and Human Interaction
The most common interaction between humans and blue jays is at backyard bird feeders. They are sometimes viewed as pests because they can drive away other bird species. Some people incorrectly assume they frequently eat the eggs and hatchlings of other species.
These birds are also subject to population decrease in areas of deforestation, particularly if there are no other trees planted. They can, however, thrive in public parks and urban areas with trees.
These birds have not been domesticated in any way.
Does the Blue Jay Make a Good Pet
Blue jays are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, this means that it is illegal to own, kill, or harm them.
Blue Jay Care
In a zoological setting these birds should be provided with plenty of flying space for exercise, and lots of vegetation. Artificial branches and trees can be used as well as naturally planted foliage.
Jays, along with all members of the corvid family, generally require more environmental enrichment and mental stimulation than some other avian species might. They are quite intelligent, and should be provided with puzzle feeders, different types of toys, and more.
Behavior of the Blue Jay
Jays are known for being loud, boisterous, and relatively aggressive birds. They are territorial, and will chase other birds within their territory and away from food sources. Their presence can actually benefit other smaller species as well.
Blue jays will mob predators that are found within their territories, and produce alarm calls when predators are spotted, which in turn alerts other birds. Pairs will aggressively defend their territory and nest from a variety of creatures.
Reproduction of the Blue Jay
Pairs of this species tend to be monogamous and mate for life. They work as a pair to build the nest and defend it from predators, but the female is the only one that incubates the eggs.
While she is brooding, the male will bring the female food. It takes approximately 16 – 18 days for the eggs to hatch, and the chicks begin to fly when they are 17 – 21 days old. The chicks will remain with their family until fall, when food becomes more scarce.