Art Lander’s Outdoors: Some facts about the Blue Jay, the lovable bully at the backyard bird feeder

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Striking blue plumage, and raucous calls, have enamored the Blue Jay to generations of bird watchers across Kentucky.

At home in forests, farmlands and semi-open habitats, the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) is common throughout the state.

In The Kentucky Breeding Bird Atlas, author Brainard Palmer-Ball Jr. wrote “it is likely that the Blue Jay has always been widespread in Kentucky.”

Striking blue plumage, and raucous calls, have enamored the Blue Jay to generations of bird watchers across Kentucky.

John James Audubon considered the species to be plentiful all across those parts of the eastern U.S. he visited in the early 1800s.

The Blue Jay’s ability to adapt to human alternation of the landscape, and thrive in urban and suburban environments, has enabled the species to remain one of the most abundant native birds that nest in Kentucky.

A terror at the backyard bird feeder, the Blue Jay bullies smaller songbirds for a lion’s share of just about any seeds or nuts available. 

The Blue Jay is the mascot of many sports team because of its determined, winning attitude. 

There was a time when a rowdy child was referred to as a  “jaybird.”

Blue Jays have a pronounced crest on the top of their head, a crown of feathers, which are raised or lowered according to the bird’s mood. When excited or aggressive, the crest will be fully raised. When frightened, the crest bristles outwards. At rest, the crest is flattened on the head.

Size and Coloration

The Blue Jay stands about nine to 12 inches tall, from bill to tail and weighs as much as 3.5 ounces, with a wingspan of 13 to 17 inches.

Blue Jays have a pronounced crest on the top of their head, a crown of feathers, which are raised or lowered according to the bird’s mood. When excited or aggressive, the crest will be fully raised. When frightened, the crest bristles outwards. At rest, the crest is flattened on the head.

Its plumage is lavender-blue to mid-blue. Its face is white, underside is grayish off-white and the neck is collared with black which extends to the sides of the head. The bill, legs, and eyes are all black. 

Males and females are almost identical, but the male is slightly larger.

Geographic Range

A member of family Corvidae, the Blue Jay is native to most of the eastern and central U.S.

Its range extends from southern Canada, south to Florida, and west to the arid pine forests and scrub habitat of northeastern Texas. Through recent range expansion it is now a rare winter visitor along the Pacific coast.

Their seasonal migrations are something of a mystery.

The Blue Jay stands about nine to 12 inches tall, from bill to tail and weighs as much as 3.5 ounces, with a wingspan of 13 to 17 inches.

The northernmost subspecies, Cyanocitta cristata bromia, escapes the cold winter weather and food shortages in Canada by flying in loose, small flocks southward along the Great Lakes and Atlantic coasts for several hundred miles.

Some of these migrants find their way into Kentucky during the winter months, and early spring.

Food Habits

The Blue Jay feeds primarily on nuts and seeds and is particularly fond of small acorns. It also eats soft fruits (elderberries, cherries, and dogwood), and insects, finding food on in trees, shrubs, and on the ground.

Like squirrels, blue jays are known to hide nuts in a cache to eat later when food is scarce.

In the backyard, Blue Jays prefer to eat off a small platform feeder measuring about 10 inches by 14 inches. Make one from plywood, with sides, and hang off a tree, or outbuilding (garage).

They relish suet cakes, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds, a common ingredient in bird seed mixes.

When compared to striped sunflower seeds, black oil seeds are meatier and have a higher oil content, giving songbirds more nutrition and calories — 28 percent fat, 25 percent fiber, 15 percent protein, Calcium, B vitamins, Iron, Vitamin E, and Potassium.

For a bird that derives its name from its noisy, garrulous behavior, Blue Jays are quite secretive when nesting.

Black oil seeds also have thinner shells, making them easier for smaller birds such as finches, cardinals and mourning doves to crack.

Nesting

For a bird that derives its name from its noisy, garrulous behavior, Blue Jays are quite secretive when nesting.

A cup nest is built in the branches of a deciduous or evergreen tree, usually about 20 feet off the ground. Both sexes participate in constructing the nest, made of fine sticks and twigs, lined with weed roots.

In Kentucky, nesting takes place as early as late March, and as late as late June.

The clutch is typically about four eggs, which are bluish or light brown with brown spots. Young are brooded by the female for eight to 12 days after hatching. They may remain with their parents for up to two months.

Feed the songbirds this winter and you’ll get a close up look at this bruiser of the backyard.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for NKyTribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors column.  

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