Blue Jay

Cyanocitta cristata

by Sherri Rickman

Blue Jays, commonly called jays, are in the Bird Class, in the Perching Bird Order, and in the Crow Family. The twelve-inch Blue Jays are brightly colored with their crest, nape, back, and wing feathers in shades of lavender and purple. Like the crows, Blue Jays have a stout bill, a crest, big strong legs and feet, and a loud annoying voice. The wings, which are about sixteen inches long, are shorter than the tail, and they have white markings on both. Blue Jays weigh about three and one quarter ounce. Today the best place to spot a Blue Jay would be in an oak forest. Blue Jays are found in the wooded areas of eastern North America from the east edge of the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, and from central Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Blue Jays are omnivores, having a regular diet of sunflower seeds, suet, and a large number of beetles. A vast majority of their diet during the winter comes from fruits and nuts. Blue Jays will often help themselves to the germinating seeds in people’s gardens. For a more vicious approach to diet, Blue Jays will often eat the eggs and young of other birds, small rodents, lizards, and snakes during the spring. Jays breed during the months of April and May and usually do not nest until their second spring. The females and males generally look the same but the females are smaller. The females are the main decorators of the nests, building the home with twigs, leaves, cotton, roots, and other materials. They place these items in an interwoven bind that serves as protection for their eggs. Blue Jays will place their nests in small trees but prefer larger trees. They lay about four to six eggs that vary in color from olive-brown to gray, thickly spotted with darker shades.

Blue Jays play an active role in building up our forests. Blue Jays depend heavily on nuts and acorns for nutrition, which they routinely bury in the ground for later salvage. Many Blue Jays fail to remember where they buried all their nuts, therefore planting forests for future generations. Even though Blue Jays have a rather bothersome squeal in their voice, they can also have a harmonious sound when they duplicate the songs or calls of other birds. Annoying Blue Jays will follow a pestering hunter, birder, or wildlife photographer through the woods forewarning every creature about their coming. Blue Jays tend to be diurnal because they migrate during the day heading south in September and October and returning in April and May. The life expectancy of Blue Jays is about six years or less, but one Blue Jay reached the age of fourteen and one-half years.

Written fall 2000, as a service learning project for Dr. Gary Coté's Biology 102 class at Radford University. Copyright Pathways for Radford.

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