Blue Jay Bird Facts

Scientific Name: Cyanocitta cristata

Blue jay on a twig
A blue jay is easily identified by its coloration and crest.

BrianEKushner / Getty Images

The blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) is a talkative, colorful bird commonly seen at North American feeders. The species name aptly translates as "crested blue chattering bird."

Fast Facts: Blue Jay

  • Scientific Name: Cyanocitta cristata
  • Common Names: Blue jay, jaybird
  • Basic Animal Group: Bird
  • Size: 9-12 inches
  • Weight: 2.5-3.5 ounces
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Central and eastern North America
  • Population: Stable
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Description

Male and female blue jays have similar coloration. The blue jay has black eyes and legs and a black bill. The bird has a white face with blue crest, back, wings, and tail. A U-shaped collar of black feathers runs around the neck to the sides of the head. Wing and tail feathers are barred with black, light blue, and white. As with peacocks, blue jay feathers are actually brown, but appear blue because of light interference from the feather structure. If the feather is crushed, the blue color disappears.

Blue jay feathers
Blue jay feathers are brown but appear blue due to light interference. epantha, Getty Images

Adult males are slightly larger than females. On average, a blue jay is a medium-size bird measuring 9 to 12 inches in length and weighing between 2.5 and 3.5 ounces.

Habitat and Distribution

Blue jays live from southern Canada south into Florida and northern Texas. They are found from the East Coast west to the Rocky Mountains. In the western portion of their range, blue jays sometimes hybridize with Steller's jay.

Blue jays prefer a forested habitat, but they are highly adaptable. In deforested regions, they continue to thrive in residential areas.

Diet

Blue jays are omnivorous birds. While they will eat small invertebrates, pet food, meat, and sometimes other bird nestlings and eggs, they usually use their strong bills to crack acorns and other nuts. They also eat seeds, berries, and grains. About 75% of a jay's diet consists of vegetable matter. Sometimes blue jays cache their food.

Behavior

Like crows and other corvids, blue jays are highly intelligent. Captive blue jays can use tools to get food and work latch mechanisms to open their cages. Jays raise and lower their crest feathers as a form of nonverbal communication. They vocalize using a wide range of calls and can mimic the calls of hawks and other birds. Blue jays may mimic hawks to warn of the predator's presence or to trick other species, driving them away from food or the nest. Some blue jays migrate, but how they decide when or whether to move south for the winter is not yet understood.

Reproduction and Offspring

Blue jays are monogamous birds that build nests and rear young together. The birds typically mate between mid-April and July and produce one clutch of eggs per year. Jays build a cup-shaped nest of twigs, feathers, plant matter, and sometimes mud. Near human habitation, they may incorporate cloth, string, and paper. The female lays between 3 and 6 gray- or brown-speckled eggs. The eggs may be buff, pale green, or blue. Both parents may incubate the eggs, but mainly the female broods the eggs while the male brings her food. The eggs hatch after about 16 to 18 days. Both parents feed the young until they fledge, which occurs between 17 and 21 days after hatching. Captive blue jays may live over 26 years. In the wild, they usually live around 7 years.

Nest of blue jay eggs
Blue jay eggs are speckled with brown or gray. David Tran, Getty Images

Conservation Status

The IUCN categorizes the blue jay's conservation status as "least concern." While deforestation in eastern North America temporarily decreased the species' population, blue jays have adapted to urban habitats. Their population has remained stable over the past 40 years.

Sources

  • BirdLife International 2016. Cyanocitta cristata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22705611A94027257. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22705611A94027257.en
  • George, Philip Brandt. In: Baughman, Mel M. (ed.) Reference Atlas to the Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., p. 279, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7922-3373-2.
  • Jones, Thony B. and Alan C. Kamil. "Tool-Making and Tool-Using in the Northern Blue Jay". Science. 180 (4090): 1076–1078, 1973. doi:10.1126/science.180.4090.1076
  • Madge, Steve and Hilary Burn. Crows and jays: a guide to the crows, jays and magpies of the world. London: A&C Black, 1994. ISBN 978-0-7136-3999-5.
  • Tarvin, K.A. and G.E. Woolfenden. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata). In: Poole, A. & Gill, F. (eds.): The Birds of North America. Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, DC, 1999.