Tray feeders are preferred for the Bodacious Blue Jays. Photo by Cathy Olyphant
Tray feeders are preferred for the Bodacious Blue Jays. Photo by Cathy Olyphant

Submitted by Debby Walters/Cathy Olyphant, St. Croix Valley Bird Club

WOODVILLE, WI – Brash and bold, Blue Jays are common year-round visitors to backyard bird feeders. This large striking blue, white, black and gray bird with its clown-like face, black necklace, and prominent crest has the reputation of being a noisy bully.

While it might seem that way to us, Blue Jays are actually very intelligent and curious birds, and it’s their sharp eyes and ears that help keep the bird “neighborhood” aware of predators in the area. They generally travel in small groups of 4-6 individuals and, if a predator is spotted, strike the alarm for all to hear. Predators might include a marauding squirrel, owl, hawk, cat, or raccoon. Jays will “mob” the predator, if possible, to drive it away.

Blue Jays are in the Corvid family – a family shared by crows and ravens. Jays, like their larger relatives, can be noisy! Besides their “jay, jay!” call, they make musical sounds and are also able to imitate hawks. They may also snap their bills in aggressive displays. A jay also uses its crest as a communication tool. When the crest is flat, generally the bird is calm and communicating with family members. The higher a jay holds its crest, the more upset or alarmed it is.

Regarded as year-round Wisconsin residents, Blue Jays will migrate, but their migration habits puzzle the experts. Individual jays might migrate south one year, stay in the north the next, and then migrate again the next year. This means that “your” feeder jays might easily be different individuals from summer to winter!

Jays frequently mate for life and will build a nest of small twigs that’s lined with grass 10 to 25 feet up in the crotch of a deciduous tree or evergreen. They can be stern parents, often not feeding a wayward nestling until it has returned to the nest. 

Three-quarters of a Blue Jay’s diet consists of tree or plant seeds. However, they also eat insects, invertebrates, and – now and again – a bit of carrion. Occasionally, and much to the fury of the parent songbirds, jays might even raid a nest of an egg or an unsuspecting nestling. Ironically, during the nesting season, other birds like chickadees, nuthatches and small woodpeckers might “mob” a Blue Jay to keep it away!

In the fall they will gorge on acorns, a highly prized and favorite food. They’ll carry multiple acorns in a “gular pouch”; this pouch opens underneath the jay’s tongue and goes down into its throat and esophagus. Amazingly enough a jay can carry multiple acorns for up to a mile and a half, and, at that point, bury them one by one.  A single bird might plant between 3,000 and 5,000 acorns in a season! Jays are credited for helping to restore oak trees throughout New England and the Midwest.

At a backyard feeder, other birds initially scatter when Blue Jays arrive, but quickly return when the coast is clear. Jay’s favorites feeder foods include sunflower seeds and peanuts. Tray feeders are preferred.

The mission of the St. Croix Valley Bird Club is to encourage interest in birds among people of the St. Croix Valley, thereby promoting habitat conservation and restoration efforts. Find them on FaceBook or at scvbirdclub.com.