The Great Outdoors


Photo by local photographer, G. Dewey Powell
My next article, I decided one afternoon, is going to be about the blue jay. Coincidentally, when I sat at my desk to start writing that article was just one bird on the feeder outside my study window, a blue jay. Further, not only was that jay the only bird at my feeder, it was the only bird in sight. I didn’t see another bird in any of the trees or bushes in the yard around the feeder, nor birds on the ground under the feeder or in the lawn beyond. There weren’t any birds on the power lines along the road in front of our house. There wasn’t a robin or a sparrow or a mourning dove, not one other birds.

There is much to write about the blue jay beginning with the way people feel about it. Many people dislike the blue jay. James Audubon may have fostered the dislike by bird watchers. Audubon’s painting of the blue jay is of one feeding on the eggs in the nest of another bird.

Blue jays are aggressive birds. They drive other birds away from feeders which also makes them unpopular with birders. Perhaps the jay at my feeder that day had driven other birds away.

Many farmers and gardeners don’t like blue jays either. Jays feed on ripening corn and when a flock of jays lands in a field of ripening corn they do considerable damage. Farmers frequently call them maize thieves.

Blue jays peck at apples on the trees and sometimes do as much damage in orchards as they do in corn fields. They eat berries, blue berries, raspberries, strawberries, almost any kind of berry.

Hunters don’t like blue jays. They claim, and there are observations that seem to prove this, that when a jay sees a man with a gun in a woods the jay screams an alarm, alerting and warning all the other animals within hearing. Amazingly, go for a walk in a woods without a gun, however, as I do often, and the jays make no alarm. Its as if they can tell the difference between a man with a gun and a man without, me, carrying a pair of binoculars.

I’ve read that blue jays have the thieving habits of a crow. And why not? They belong to the same family of birds as the crow. In one of my bird books the author describes blue jays as the noisiest and most obstreperous creatures in the woods. However another author calls them amusing rascals.

There’s another side to blue jays however, a plus side. Every adult jay, male and female has a bright blue crest, blue on the back of the head and blue spotted with black and white on its back, wings and tail. They’re gray on the throat, breast and belly and have a black neckless but the gray doesn’t detract from the blue. Blue jays are pretty birds.The most common call of a blue jay is a loud cry, often repeated over and over and usually described as thief thief thief. But blue jays have many vocalizations and thus enliven things for a bird watcher. They have bell-like notes, a clicking call and something that sound like teakle teakle teakle. They imitate other birds, the calls of red-shouldered hawks, black-capped chickadees, American goldfinches, eastern wood pewees, northern orioles and gray catbirds.

Blue jays also plant trees. They eat acorns and hazel nuts and, like squirrels, they bury nuts for future dining. Again, like squirrels, they don’t retrieve all the nuts they bury and some of those nuts grow.

Blue jays eat insects, grasshoppers, beetles, tent caterpillars and many more. They kill and eat mice. The eat snails and small fish, frogs and salamanders. They eat spiders. They are common feeder birds and for me, the blue jay is a good subject, particularly when there are no other birds.

Neil A. Case

Neil A. Case

I have always liked the outdoors and birds and am a conservationist and an environmentalist. I don't write specifically about conservation but mix my opinion in with stories about a bird, a mammal, a plant or other outdoor subject. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer