About the Blue Jay

Blue Jays reside mostly year round in southern Canada and east of the Rockies. A part of the Corvid family, related to crows and ravens, Blue Jays are intelligent, vocal, and communicative. They form tight family and community bonds. Their diet consists of nuts, seeds, acorns, berries, insects, frogs, mice, and – once in a while, probably – bird eggs and nestlings. (I’ve never seen a jay eat a bird egg or nestling, though I did watch a catbird pick at a robin egg this spring.)

Who doesn’t recognize the Blue Jay? It is a large songbird with an aqua back and iridescent blue plumage and scaly wings and tail. Blue has been my favorite color for as long as I can remember. Even before I became a birder, I always got excited when I saw jays. There it goes! When they fly, they are as eye-catching as Northern Cardinals: a streak of vibrant blues and also purples – so impossibly beautiful that I want my eyes to literally absorb them – mixed with scaly white and black on outspread wings and diamond-shaped tail. No matter the backdrop, of tree green or blank snow, they stand out. Finding a feather from the wing or tail is treasure-like, a keep-sake for all ages. The jay’s blue isn’t really blue, but brown due the feathers containing melanin, off which light bounces and refracts, thus creating an effect of blue iridescence. Crush the feather, it becomes brown.

Blue Jays produce three kinds of sounds. One is the familiar screech, “Jay jay!” During three-fourths of the year, I hear them all day, every day. At the start of spring, the Blue Jays disappear. In late summer, they come back, with youngin’s and adults shrieking with full-force until the following spring. Depending, the jays are talking, trying to get a hold of one another, issuing warnings of predators, or mobbing raptors.

Here is where the Blue Jay’s charm stops. They are such noisy birds, topping even the incessantly chirping House Sparrows. Such a contrast between gorgeous appearance and brash, unappealing call is almost incongruous. The “jay” is loud enough to startle me. Often, a quiet moment inside or outside, then, abruptly, JAAAY. It keeps going. You know those moments. Even with other noises in the background they are annoying.

Last month, when the jay explosion was still high, I heard at least thirty (a conservative estimate) screeching while hiking around Brinton Brook. To the north of the sanctuary, along with countless catbirds, I came across a large group of Blue Jays mobbing a raptor, all hidden in the thickness of the evergreens. Not quiet deafening but grating enough. I tried, without luck, to see which raptor they wanted to aggravate. They continued for minutes, even after I left.

The second sound Blue Jays produce is musical and gurgling. I hear “tingly-dee”. The Audubon Society website describes it as “queedle queedle.” Barely into birding, I thought I found another species. Whenever it rang in the winter air, I went outside, hoping to see this hidden bird. It took me several days to figure out it was a Blue Jay. I can’t remember how I did, but I was surprised that jays can produce such a limpid, bubbling song.

Lastly, Blue Jays imitate Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks. I’ve only heard them do Red-tails. I didn’t even know when that Blue Jays could imitate these raptors for a time, so when I first saw a Blue Jay sitting in a tree, repeating the Red-tail call, I shouted at the jay, “Why??” I’d been fooled into thinking there had been a Red-tail – How neat was that! – in my neighborhood for the past couple days. In retrospect, the calls did seem off. There’s something about the timbre and the length. Now, I can easily recognize the imitations. Some are better than others. They might fool other birds, but not this birder anymore.

Blue Jays are also known for their aggressive behavior. I observed some of this behavior last winter, when I put out seed on my backyard deck. The smaller birds – juncos, sparrows, cardinals, etc – would be feeding peacefully when three or four Blue Jays arrived like schoolyard bullies, with a loud entrance. They’d sometimes peck at the mild-mannered juncos to move aside. As for the suet, any bird at the cage had to go. It was especially off-putting seeing the cardinals flutter down in distress. Looking on from inside the house, I protested this conduct. Fortunately, the Blue Jays didn’t approach to feed like this frequently, and they didn’t visit the deck much. Even if they begin to scare all of the birds away and hog the seeds for themselves, I won’t drive them away. They are birds after all. (Also, when they were so close to the back door, they allow me a good view to admire their plumage.)

While researching for this essay, I came across an article about Blue Jays from Audubon Magazine. The front image is a painting of a jay. Arrows stick out of the jay’s breast, on which there is a bit of blood. Meanwhile, the jay, singing, stares at the viewer with a happy expression, as if it were undergoing no harm.

My opinions on the Blue Jay may not be entirely positive, and I’m sure others feel a similar sentiment. But I don’t understand such a hate for this bird, let alone how someone could go as far as to project into reality this horrifying concept. Indeed, Blue Jays may be noise-makers , they are aggressive, and they eat bird eggs and nestling once in a while (although allaboutbirds.org says this is disputable because of a study, though they don’t link the study, to my frustration). By golly, I can think of other birds to justifiably dislike more intensely, such as the House Sparrow – go back to England! – and the European Starling. However, I wouldn’t go as far as to picture hurting them. And I don’t object to one if one disdains the Blue Jay. How can I stop you?

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