BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
DESCRIPTION: The Blue Jay has lavender-blue top parts and a prominent blue head crest (or crown) that will be raised depending on the bird’s mood. the face and under parts are white. The wings have fine black bars and one white bar. The long tail has several bars. There is a think black collar and a small black forehead patch at the base of the bill. The eyes are black. The bill and legs are black. Sexes are almost identical except for the slightly larger size in the male. This bird is about 12 inches (30 cm) long.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Cyanocitta-cristata – The blue jay has a variety of calls rather than songs, and can imitate other sounds.
NAME: The English name ‘Jay’ is from French ‘Geai’ and might have been associated with ‘joyful’. The Latin genus name ‘Cyanocitta’ means ‘blue jay’, and the Latin species name ‘cristata’ means ‘crested’.
Because of the bird’s noisy behavior, the name ‘jay’ became associated with a person talking non-stop (chatterbox). The name ‘jaywalking’ also stems from the bird’s behavior, interpreted in a pejorative way.
HABITAT: Wooded areas. Blue jays are frequently seen in residential areas as well and will regularly visit bird feeders.
DIET: Omnivorous. This will occasionally feed on smaller birds’ chicks and eggs. However most of the diet is from acorns, seeds, berries and cultivated fruit. This bird also eats many insect species
NESTING: The nest is built in a tree by both parents (see video below of a pair gathering nesting material – small roots). Sometimes the inside of the nest may contain litter. Around six light green or beige eggs are laid, which are incubated by both parents, who also both feed the chicks.
DISTRIBUTION: The range of this species covers the southern part of Canada east of the Rockies, also most of the USA (except Alaska) east of the Rockies. They are mostly a year-round resident on their range.
ON PEI: The blue jay is a year-round resident on Prince Edward Island, and is common.
CONSERVATION: The blue jay is widespread in its range and its population is not currently considered at risk.
NOTES: The blue jay is very visible with its vivid colors, a rare occurrence in northern birds. That blue color however is not from pigments, but rather a result of light reflection.
The blue jay opens up sunflower seeds the same way as the Black-capped Chickadee – holding it in its feet while perched on a branch, and hammering at it with its bill.
The blue jay does not walk – rather it takes small hops, as can be seen in the video below, where a pair is gathering nesting material (small pieces of roots).
These birds can literally ‘fill it up’ by stuffing their throat pouch with as many as a dozen sunflower seeds, for example, before taking off to hide them somewhere for a future meal.
Blue jays practice ‘anting‘, i.e. rubbing ants on their bodies. It is not known exactly why birds do this, but one explanation would be that they use the formic acid from ants as a pesticide to get rid of parasites. Another explanation would be to rid the ants of their formic acid before eating them (as a ‘thank you’ after they cleaned their feathers).
As with crows, they will chase away raptors such as owls or hawks by mobbing them, and for good reason – because they’re relatively slow flyers, they can be an easy prey to those raptors.
Blue jays, as with other members of its Corvidae family, have shown some skills at obtaining food.
The blue jay is the official bird of the province of Prince Edward Island. It is also the mascot of the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as some American universities.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Steller’s Jay
REFERENCES: https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/bluejay.htm (New Hampshire PBS)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/blue-jay (Missouri Department of Conservation)
This blue jay in the video above is foraging for food on the top of the wisteria. Toward the end of the video another blue jay can be seen behind.
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