Blue jays are vibrant, beautiful birds but it is not their striking beauty that makes them stand out from the crowd. They are very talented creatures, with several unique abilities that make them a top pick for bird watchers. Many people like to encourage blue jays to their garden bird feeders, so let’s find out what they eat and how you can entice them with their favourite treats.
Blue Jay Appearance
Blue jays, as the name suggests, have a bright blue appearance to their plumage, with black and white banding on the wings, a white or pale grey chest and black feet.
FUN FACT: Blue jays do not have blue feathers. The blue colouring is caused by refraction of light from the inner structure of the individual feathers.
They are even more distinctive thanks to a blue crest and white feathering around the face. Adult blue jays grow up to 30cm, measuring from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail. The striking black beak is heavy and strong, enabling the bird to crack open large nuts and acorns.
The only way to tell a male and female blue jay apart is their size, with males being slightly larger than females. Both sexes have the same colouring and wing markings.
Blue Jay Habitat
In regard to habitat, the blue jay has one of the largest ranges of any North American species. They are found as far south as Florida, all the way into Southern Canada. They are a hardy species, able to thrive in a variety of climates.
Blue jays have a preference for woodland where there are a mixture of tree species. This provides them with a more varied diet and is better suited to raising the young.
There are four subspecies of blue jay, each living in a different area.
- Coastal blue jays are found, unsurprisingly, along the southern coast of the US, from North Carolina to Texas.
- Florida blue jays are found exclusively in southern Florida and are the smallest of the four subspecies.
- Western blue jays inhabit Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas. They have one of the smallest habitat ranges of the four subspecies
- Northern blue jays are the largest subspecies. They are found in southern Canada right across from east to west. This particular species is also found in northern US states including North Dakota, Michigan and Maine.
They are most common in areas where the availability of nuts, berries and insects are high as these are blue jays’ favourite snacks to eat. It is quite common for blue jays to be spotted in residential areas, especially where bird feeders are easily accessible.
What Do Blue Jays Eat?
As most of you will know, blue jays love to eat nuts. They are often seen around bird feeders and are sometimes confident enough to take food from people’s hands.
In the wild, blue jays feed on a wide variety of vegetation and insects, including:
- Acorns (a particular blue jay favourite)
- Wild fruits
- Bird eggs & chicks (smaller species than themselves)
If you wish to encourage blue jays to your bird feeder, there are certain foods that blue jays really enjoy to eat. Their favourite foods from bird feeders are sunflower seeds and peanuts.
FUN FACT: Blue jays bury food and will steal food from other birds!
They also seem to enjoy berries such as blueberries and elderberries, plus other fruits like apple and pear. You can dice fruits into small pieces and scatter them around your garden. Being large birds, blue jays tend to be confident around people, so your regular bird visitors may be brave enough to accept food straight from your hand.
Given that they are a larger bird, most small bird feeders are impractical. The hanging feeders will swing too wildly when the birds land or take off and the mesh feeders that keep out squirrels will also prevent blue jays from feeding.
The best option is a traditional platform feeder that will be sturdy enough to take the weight of larger birds landing and taking off, while also given easy access to food.
Also Check Out: Bird Feeder Guide – Top 10 Bird feeders in 2021
How Smart Are Blue Jays?
Blue jays are related to crows and ravens. They are highly intelligent and fast learners. A blue jay will learn to accept food from a human simply by observing another animal. They will also quickly acclimate to your routine. If you top up your bird feeder at the same time each day, local blue jays will start waiting for the food to arrive.
They are so smart that they can even fashion tools to help them get food. They can manipulate sticks to move out-of-reach food closer and they have also been seen picking locks.
Blue jays are also skilled at mimicry. Their main predator is the red-shouldered hawk, but blue jays are able to mimic the hawk’s cry. Not only does this warn other blue jays, but smaller birds will also react to the call to avoid being attacked.
Breeding and Behaviour
Blue jays are monogamous birds, meaning they mate for life. They will only choose a new mate if their partner dies.
The breeding season begins in March and last until late July. Northern blue jays have one brood per year, whereas southern subspecies may brood twice per year.
Courtship behaviour begins with aerial chasing, which can appear to be aggressive. Males will then start offering food to a female if they accept their advances. Both birds will construct the nest, which is made from twigs, mosses and mud. The inner side of the nest is lined with feathers, animal hair and grasses.
A blue jay pair will share incubating duties however, females tend to do more than males. Incubation of the eggs, which number between 2 and 7, usually last 16-18 days. The male will bring food to his partner while she incubates their eggs.
Both parents will feed the chicks and chase away intruders. Fledging occurs around 19-21 days old and juveniles will start leaving the nest around 3 months old.
Blue Jay Symbolism
Just like seeing a magpie is meant to give the observer a clue to future events, seeing a blue jay has a special meaning.
If a blue jay visits you, it is supposed to bring you good luck or to infer that something special or exciting is going to happen.
Blue jays are also linked to community and companionship, intelligence and loyalty.