Species Spotlight: Blue Jays

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Blue Jays are common and easily recognizable birds. When you think Blue Jays you may think "team"- Go Jays Go! Groups of Blue Jays are actually called a band, cast or party. Fittingly so- they certainly bring the noise wherever they go. Blue Jays are frequently spotted in backyards and natural areas across Southern Ontario. And they do love an oak tree! 

Blue Jay on WBU Modern Rustic Tray Bird Feeder 

Blue Jays are interesting in many ways, let's explore a little bit more about Blue Jays life history and all the joys of welcoming these birds into our yards. They represent one of the few blue species we see here in Ontario. The thing is- Blue Jays are not really blue!! Most of the blue that we see or perceive, such as that of Blue Jays, is actually due to feather structure and the way that light reflects on them. When light shines on a Blue Jay all other wavelengths of the colour spectrum (a rainbow) are absorbed, and the colour we see, in this case, blue, is reflected back to our eyes! 

Blue Jays are omnivorous birds and eat a range of food including nuts, seeds, acorns, fruit, insects and even small vertebrates.  They are also avid cachers and have specialized adaptations that help them do it more effectively. Blue Jays carry food in their throat and upper esophagus, an area often called a “gular pouch.” They may store 2-3 acorns in the pouch, another one in their mouth, and one more in the tip of the bill. With this adaptation, they can carry up to 5 acorns at once (or the equivalent size of other foods) and store it somewhere for later. Some studies have shown that in a single fall, one Blue Jay could cache 3,000-5,000 acorns. They can sometimes travel up to 3km to cache their treasures. 

Blue Jays are often chastised for their known practice of eating eggs and nestlings of other birds. But extensive research has proven this to be a very rare occurrence, with only 1% of the study population showing any evidence of this behaviour.

Blue Jay weighing peanuts. Photo by Kristen Martyn. 

This species not only communicates (very) vocally, but also with the movement of their head crest. They are considered to have broad "vocabularies" and can even mimic sounds they hear. This points to the species intelligence. Not only do they have great memory that helps with caching, impeccable vocal and communication skills, they are also known to weigh food to choose the absolute best morsel for picking. 

Here's a game you can play with Jays: 

Get some unshelled peanuts. Either you can go the easy route and simply toss 10-15 onto your deck or grass and watch the Jays come and weigh each peanut. They will pick them up in their beak to check the weight and then make decisions accordingly. 

To test this theory further, try cutting a small opening in the shells and "stacking up" a couple of the shells to have more peanuts inside than the others, and therefore weigh more. This way as you watch, you know which shells weigh more and you can watch the Jays solve the puzzle. 

Blue Jays favourite foods include: 

Blue Jays enjoy a wide range of feeders including Hopper Feeders, Ground Trays, Fly Through Feeders and Eco Tough Trays. My personal favourite for Jays are Peanut Feeders. These provide the greatest entertainment - both for you and the jays! You can check out our Peanut Feeders here, including the well loved Peanut Wreath feeder. 

Molting Blue Jay on a Peanut Wreath feeder. Photo by Leanne Leblanc 

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Blue Jays are currently molting, along with many other species. If you see Blue Jays that look a little dishevelled .. and a little bald, don't fret. This is a natural process that occurs at this time each year. They look a little worse for wear but are working hard to grow fresh new feathers. During this time, high energy foods like peanuts are actually very helpful as molting is energy intensive. To learn more about the process of molting, read our former blog about molting here. 

Sending bands of Jays your way!



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