The Blue Chatterer

Blue Jays at Feeder in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A family of Blue Jays dine together (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

One of the noisiest and vibrant birds to animate our eastern back yards, many think of the Blue Jay as a nuisance. Yet that title would be doing our little indigo friend an injustice, for though they are a rambunctious sort, Blue Jays are also incredibly intelligent, curious and playful.  They maintain a complex social system with tight family bonds and the growing population of oak trees in our New England forests are due in part to their love of acorns. 

Blue Jay and Mourning Dove at Feeder in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Blue Jay and Mourning Dove relax at feeder (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Brightening the landscape with flashes of chromatic blue, while vocalizing in pitches ranging from repetitive squawks to screeches, the common Blue Jay is recognized in back yards throughout eastern and central U.S. and southern Canada. Cyanocitta cristata heralds from the Corvidae family, which includes crows, ravens and magpies (in other words, other noisy birds!). The name Cyanocitta is derived from the Greek words Kyaneos, meaning blue, and Kitta, meaning chattering, hence ‘Blue Chatterer.’ Cristata is Latin for crested, which refers to the Blue Jay’s notable crest.

The Blue Jay's Colorful plumage in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The Blue Jay’s colorful plumage brightens the landscape (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Known for its vibrant plumage of cobalt-blue to sky-blue, blended between black stripes and hints of turquoise, the Blue Jay displays quite the color palette on its 9 to 12 inch (beak to tail) body. To further enhance this kaleidoscope of hues, the feathers around its eyes and underside are a creamy white, making the black eyes, beak and legs much more distinct. Males and females are almost identical, but the male is slightly larger. Oddly enough, I read that Blue Jays from Connecticut averaged a higher weight (overall range of 2.5–3.5 oz) than those in southern states.

Cardinal & Blue Jay cracking sunflower seeds in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Cardinal & Blue Jay cracking sunflower seeds together (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

An extremely adaptable bird, Blue Jays forage in trees, shrubs and on the ground. At feeders, they use their hard black beak to break open seeds and nuts. When harvesting nuts in the wild, they often store some in holes in the ground (like squirrels), to save for later consumption. Contrary to popular belief, rather than a diet of baby birds and eggs, the majority of their diet is vegetable matter; including a variety of nuts, seeds, berries, small fruits, and some insects, such as caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, and spiders.

Cyanocitta cristata is a territorial bird that will quickly sound an alarm screech when it senses danger, however it has the capability of making a variety of other musical sounds as well. Blue Jays are known for their remarkable ability to mimic other bird calls, most notably that of local hawks.  Unfortunately, because they are such slow flyers (20-25 mph), this talent does not save them from becoming prey to the local raptors. To hear their calls, visit:  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Blue Jays Eggs in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Blue Jays Eggs in nest (Photo credit: Flicker)

In my area of Connecticut, Blue Jays do not migrate, but in the northern regions of Canada they are known to fly to warmer southern climates.  They typically nest in oak or pine woods, but can often be found in suburban gardens as well. Usually monogamous, the male courts the female and the happy couple work together to create a love nest anywhere from 8 to over 30 feet high. The Blue Jay nest is a composition of twigs, grass, weeds, bark strips, moss, and is often decorated with paper, rags, string, or other debris. The clutch consists of 2 to 7 bluish eggs that incubate approximately 18 days (both parents sit on eggs), with a 17 to 21 day nesting period. The oldest known wild Blue Jay was 17.

Blue Jays and Cardinals in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Blue Jays and Cardinals on grape vine (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Dozens of Blue Jays visit my yard annually, and initially I worried that they would bully away many of the other local birds.  Instead, I have found them perched on the same branch as Cardinals, Chickadees, Finches and Juncos. In fact, the birds have set up their own routine, where different varieties come to the feeder at different times. Some eat from the feeder, while others eat what has dropped to the ground.  Squirrels stop by in-between, and the crows come at the end to clean up the last seeds. It’s a wonderful system of sharing and acceptance . . . something we might all learn from.

(**Conservation Note: Although considered in a Least Concern situation, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Blue Jay populations slightly decreased throughout their range between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 29%. The most frequent cause of death (associated with humans) comes from attacks by cats and dogs.

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A Garden for All