Featured Birds: Blue Jays

The mascot of Toronto’s Major League Baseball team and the provincial bird of Prince Edward Island is popular for both beauty and brains. Blue Jays are especially common in the eastern states and provinces, but are found throughout much of North America.

They do shy away from much of the West, though they’ve been extending their range even there. But for those who live without the species we call the Blue Jay, there are other blue jays to fill the vacuum: Steller’s Jay, California, Woodhouse’s, and Florida Scrub-Jays, Arizona Jay, and Pinyon Jay.

Jays belong to the crow and raven family, along with magpies. The family includes some of the most intelligent of all birds. In general, jays are opportunistic omnivores, but often have strong preferences or are specifically adapted to a particular type of food.

This is especially true of Blue Jays and Florida Scrub-Jays, which feed heavily on acorns, and Pinyon Jays, which take mostly pine seeds. Steller’s Jay and the scrub-jays of the West eat more meat, but all jays eat both animal and plant matter to some extent. Jays store, or cache, a lot of food for later. They carry it in a pouch in their throat, and store it here and there. They can keep track of all their hiding places to retrieve food even months later.

Male and female jays have identical plumage, and most mates remain together year-round as long as they both live. Most or all jays divide some nesting duties, with females incubating eggs and brooding young chicks and males providing food during that time. In some species, most notably the Florida Scrub-Jay, young males from the year or two before help their parents with nesting.

Some jays are completely non-migratory. Male Florida Scrub-Jays in particular are likely to spend their entire lives within just a few miles of where they hatched. Blue Jays can be found in winter virtually everywhere they breed, yet they show strong migratory movements every spring and fall, and scientists have no idea how to predict whether an individual will migrate or over-winter.

Jay families and neighbors work together to find new food resources and to be vigilant and let one another know about danger. Their calls keep one another informed about danger. Other species also recognize those calls, so jays, especially Blue Jays with their loud squawks, serve as avian neighborhood watch teams.