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Blue Jay
Cyanocitta cristata
"The Crested-Blue Chattering Bird"

Length 11 inches.
Wingspan 16 inches.
Weight 3 ounces (85 grams).

Smartly outfitted in its flashing white tail and radiant blue upperside, the Blue jay inhabits the yards and forests of North America, east of the Rocky Mountains. The Blue jay favors open, deciduous forests, where beech, hazel, and oak trees are found.

Its sister birds in the family Corvidae include the crows (American, Northwestern, Fish, Tamaulipas) and ravens (Chihauhuan, Common) from the family Corvus; Magpies (Yellow and Black-billed) of Pica; other jays such as the Gray Jay, Island, Florida, Western-scrub, and Pinyon jays.

Audubon Observes

The most well-known image of the Blue jay, from John James Audubon's The Birds Of America (1827), evokes their penchant for aggressive theft by showing a group of three jays enjoying the freshly laid eggs from another bird's nest. Audubon engraved the following: 'See how each is enjoying the fruits of his knavery, sucking the egg which he has pilfered from the nest of some innocent dove or harmless partridge! Who could imagine that a form so graceful, arrayed by nature in a garb so resplendent, should harbour so much mischief'.

Indeed the egg production of other birds comprise an important food source for bird. The Blue jay serves an important role in preying on young birds of other species; in doing so, they benefit ecosystems by limiting particular bird populations.

Diet of Egg and Nut

The bulk of its diet includes: wild fruits, acorns, hazelnuts, beechnuts, corn, and grains. Its heavy bill pecks open the cocoons of, especially, tent caterpillars, and is adept at the acquisition of acorns and beechnuts, which it buries in grass and in hollow trees. Blue jays are especially attracted to feeding stations containing peanuts, mixed grains, and sunflower seeds; they will carry off and hide bread and seeds for later consumption.

Nesting Behavior

Their flight capability is strong, flowing buoyantly with rowing wingbeats. Nests, seen on ledges and telephone poles, are bulky cups of sticks, lichens, moss, grass, and man-made products like paper. The Blue jay uses mud and fine rootlet and feather lining to give shape to the inner cup of the nest (usually 10 cm in diameter). The bird is comfortable building nests in populated areas, often near buildings. Commonly, sets of smaller nests are built (3 to 10 meters from ground) in preparation for a larger nest; this is an important component of the jay's mating ritual.

Migration and Gathering

The Blue jay is the sole migratory jay, travelling in loose flocks from daybreak to early twilight, but not after. After the breeding season, the Blue jay wanders considerably, often in small flocks of five to fifty birds. Much larger flocks have been observed at such important migratory spots as Point Pelee National Park where mass congregation rituals are enacted prior to crossing Lake Erie.

Compared with other similar birds, the banded Blue jay lives considerably longer, up to 15 years; it is more common, however, to achieve something closer to 10 to 12 years.

Cresting Signals

The Crested jays -- which include the Blue jay and the indigo, paler-rumped Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) -- are winged broadly with short tails. The crest is simply the elongated crown feathers which the jay raises or lowers to communicate with other birds. A raised crest, with a prominent peak, indicates high excitement and aggresstion; it is seen often before attack. Blue jays lower their crest in intimate, family situations, when feeding close together, or when quietly resting.

While the particular sound of the Blue jay varies regionally, most often she exhibits a shrill, harsh, descending jaaaay -- "an unrelenting, steel-cold scream" as Henry David Thoreau ("Walden") observed. Other important calls include the clear, whistled toolili; the quiet, clicking rattle; and least commonly, the quiet, thrasher-like song. When attacking a predator, the Blue jay exudes an intimidatingly harsh shkrr. The Blue jay's noisy banter distinguishes it from other types of jays such as the Scrub and Tropical who are content to converse sonorously. As an imitator, she famously performs a Red-Shouldered Hawk, among other raptors.

Audubon, James. Birds Of America. 1827. Online resource available: rmc.library.cornell.edu/ornithology.
Austin, Oliver. Birds of The World. New York: Golden, 1961.
Cruickshank, H. Thoreau On Birds. McGraw Hill, 1964.
Sibley, David. The Sibley Guide To Birds. New York: Chanticleer, 2000.

Blue" jay` (?). Zool.

The common jay of the United States (Cyanocitta, or Cyanura, cristata). The predominant color is bright blue.


© Webster 1913.

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