Blue Jay Lane

Blue Jays are common and wide-spread in Collin County. These magnificent birds inhabit open woodlands, parks and yards. While they are under-appreciated by many, visiting birders from abroad often have the Blue Jay high on their list of most wanted species.

Their loud and aggressive nature is well-known but they can also be quiet and sneaky, especially during the nesting season.

Winsor Marrett Tyler, a Fellow of the American Ornithologists’s Union and Harvard graduate, once wrote what is perhaps the best ever short description of the Blue Jay.

“The blue jay is a strong, healthy-looking bird, noisy and boisterous.  He gives us the impression of being independent, lawless, haughty, even impudent, with a disregard for his neighbors’ rights and wishes: like Hotspur, as we meet him in Henry IV, part 1.

To be sure, the jay has his quiet moments, as we shall see, but his mercurial temper, always just below the boiling point, is ever ready to flare up into rage and screaming attack, or, like many another diplomat, beat a crafty retreat. He is a strikingly beautiful bird: blue, black, and white, big and strong, his head carrying a high, pointed crest which in anger shoots upward like a flame. Walter Faxon long ago told me of a distinguished visiting English ornithologist who was eager to see a live blue jay because he considered it the finest bird in the world. He was surprised to find that this beauty, as he called it, is one of our common birds.”

Blue Jays have a mixed migration pattern. Some Blue Jays in the northern United States are permanent residents, while other members of the same population migrate south in the winter. Blue Jays in Collin County may appear to be here on a year-round basis but it is not that simple. While the evidence is limited, Blue Jays we see in the summer appear to move further south in the winter, replaced by Blue Jays from Oklahoma.

Blue Jays are members of the Corvid family, which includes crows and ravens. Corvids are among the smartest birds and Blue Jays are no exception. Their intelligence supports a variety of behaviors.

The Gardener
Like many birds, Blue Jays will cache food for later consumption. Acorns are a favorite food.  Blue Jays will bury acorns for consumption at a later date.  A single Blue Jay may hide 3,000 – 5,000 acorns in a season.  Some of these hidden acorns are not eaten and grow into a new oak tree.

At the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, oak trees advanced north again at a faster rate than would have been expected. One theory is that the acorn-hiding Blue Jays accelerated the northward expansion.

The Mimic
Blue Jays are best-known for their loud “jay” call.  They also give soft, easy-to-miss notes when communicating with other nearby Blue Jays, especially when around their nest. A queerieup and many other often strange calls are in their standard repertoire.

They frequently, and quite accurately, mimic the calls of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks.

The Hunter
While not a common behavior, Blue Jays will raid the nests of other birds, dining on eggs or young. They will rarely take small, adult birds.

The Protector
Blue Jays will loudly mob hawks or owls that invade a Blue Jays territory. Their loud calls announce to other birds in the neighborhood that a predator is in the area.

By the way, Blue Jays aren’t actually blue. The pigment in their feathers is brown. The feather structure causes light to refract, resulting in the blue color.

The next time you see a Blue Jay thank them for the all the oak tress they have planted, and marvel at their memory that can locate hundreds of buried acorns that were cached for later consumption.

Credits:

Winsor Marrett Tyler quote from the Bent Life History series, published by the Smithsonian.

Oak Woodland Management – University of California
Blue Jay: Acorn Planters – Loyola University New Orleans
Additional information about Blue Jays on Birdzilla.com
Lead Photograph © Alan Wilson
Blue Jay at feeder © Sam Crowe

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