Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

These common songbirds are well known throughout Connecticut. Their bright blue plumage and distinctive profile make them easily recognizable. They fly into Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo from the surrounding area, including Beardsley Park, and you may see them around your own home.

Blue Jays are known as intelligent birds that maintain complex social systems with tight family bonds.

Description:
Blue Jays are considered large songbirds. Their plumage is white or gray underneath and a combination of white, black and blue above. Blue Jays have a broad rounded tail and a perky crest. They have a black bridle across the back of the neck, across the face and over the throat. It is believed that the varieties of designs help them to identify each other. Blue Jays use their crests as a form of communication. When they are feeding peacefully with family and flock members, they will lower their crests. They raise it to show aggression.

A Blue Jay’s feathers are actually brown. They contain a pigment called melanin. There are modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs that cause them to appear blue by scattering light.

Blue Jays are between 10 and 12 inches in length. They weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 ounces. Their wingspans are between 13 and 17 inches.

While they are considered songbirds, many people think of them as “noisy” birds. Blue Jays make a variety of calls while perching but are silent when flying. Their calls carry long distances and one particular call sound mimics that of the Red-Shouldered Hawk. It is unknown if this is a warning to other Blue Jays that a hawk is near or to intimidate other birds into thinking a hawk is near. Blue Jays in human care have been known to mimic human sounds and a cat’s meow.

Blue Jays present a migration mystery. While thousands of them will migrate in flocks along the Great Lakes and Atlantic coasts, some are present throughout winter in all parts of their range. Some individual will migrate south only every other year. Adults migrate but young Blue Jays are more likely to migrate than adults.

In the wild, Blue Jays have not been documented using tools, but Blue Jays in human care have been seen using strips of newspaper to rake in food pellets from outside their cages.

Blue Jays are known to stuff food items in a pouch in their throat and upper esophagus called a “gular pouch” to store elsewhere for later consumption. Also, when eating a seed or nut, they hold it in their feet while pecking it open.

Habitat:
Blue Jays live on the edges of forests. Since their favorite favorite food is acorns, they are often found near oaks, in forests, woodlots, towns, cities, and parks.

Range:
Blue Jays are found in eastern and central North America.

Diet:
Omnivore. They eat acorns, nuts, fruits, grains, seeds, small insects, beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers. They will occasionally raid other birds’ nests for eggs or nestlings.

Family Life:
Blue Jays have complex social structures. They often mate for life and stay with their mate even during the non-breeding season.

Blue Jays build their nests out of twigs, grass, and sometimes mud, lined with rootlets, in the crotch or thick outer branches of a deciduous or coniferous tree. Both parents help to build the nest although the males gather most of the materials while females do the majority of the building. Only the female incubates the eggs. The hatchlings are naked, their eyes are closed and their mouths have a red lining when hatched. For the first 8 to 12 days after hatching, the male provides food. After this time of brooding, the female leaves the nest and helps in finding food. Blue Jay hatchlings usually leave the nest 17 to 21 days after hatching but the young continue to remain near, and be fed by, their parents for a month or two.

Life Span:
Blue Jays have been known to live up to 17 years in the wild and up to 26 years in human care.

Status:
Least Concern.