Bird Watcher's General Store

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Blue Jays Get Bad Rap

Dear Bird Folks:

Blue Jays are one of my favorite birds, yet many of my neighbors complain about them. They say that they are nothing but mean bullies. Could you please write something nice about them so I don’t feel guilty about liking them?

-Diana, East Orleans


Sure Di,

I’ll write something nice about Blue Jays. I don’t have trouble writing nice things about any bird. It’s your neighbors that I’d worry about. Talk about mean bullies. That’s a pretty rough crowd there in East Orleans. You don’t want to get near any of them before they’ve had their morning caffe’ latte.

Blue Jays are clearly one of the most fascinating and handsome of all our native birds. There are few birds in all of North America that can compare with their striking beauty. Yet other birds, including the dumpy little Eastern Bluebird, seem to receive most the love while the Blue Jay draws the wrath. Apparently some birds have better PR agents than others.

For sure when Blue Jays land on a feeder the smaller birds scatter, but that’s more of a result of the little birds being wimpy, not because of the jays being bullies. Have you ever seen a jay beat up another feeder bird or shake it down for its lunch money? No. The jays just land, eat and ignore the other birds. I think the little birds are more startled than afraid. Most of the time the other birds quickly return to the feeding area, showing little fear of being attacked or receiving a wedgie from the big bad jay.

The next complaint is that jays are pigs. They eat all the food and don’t leave any for the “good” birds. First of all, to me, any bird that eats a lot of bird seed is a good bird. Of course a large bird will eat more than a smaller bird, but that doesn’t make it evil. And jays probably don’t eat as much we think they do. Jays have the ability to store seeds in a throat pouch, much like a chipmunk does with its face. The jay only looks like it is scuffing down tons of seeds, when actually it is collecting seeds to eat more slowly later. They also hide seeds in a stash. I think we all remember what a stash is. Jays hide food for later use, which benefits other creatures who often find the stash first and borrow the seeds from it.

The biggest complaint about Blue Jays is that they eat other bird’s eggs, or worse, they eat other bird’s babies. While it is true that jays will occasionally rob from another bird’s nest, it doesn’t happen that often. In fact, for the most part, jays are vegetarians. Researchers who examined the contents of hundreds of jay’s stomachs found that only 25% contained insects and other animals matter. The stomachs of the other 75% contained nuts, acorns, seeds from your neighbor’s feeders, and, of course, tofu.

There are many reasons why we should like Blue Jays. First of all, they are really beautiful birds. I know that sounds shallow, but that’s the kind of guy I am. Travelers from England often are thrilled to see their first Blue Jay. Although I’m not sure if they are truly impressed with the jay’s good looks or if it is just the first bird that they’ve ever seen that wasn’t shrouded in fog. Jays also should be given credit for saving the lives of many birds. Your neighbors probably complain about this too, but the jay’s raucous calls, “jaay, jaay” warns others when a predator, such as a hawk or the dreaded house cat, is around.

It should also be pointed out that Blue Jays are excellent parents. The male helps the female build the nest, he feeds her while she is sitting on the eggs and helps her feed the young birds after they have hatched. Blue Jays also stay together throughout the fall in a family group. They don’t split up until spring when the breeding season makes them all crazy.

One last thing that you should know about jays is that they molt in late summer. Some birds molt so slowly that you can hardly notice, but sometimes jays will molt so rapidly that they lose their crest and become completely bald. If you see a bald Blue Jay Diana, relax, the baldness is normal. There is no reason to panic or to mix Rogaine in your bird seed. It doesn’t work, believe me I’ve tried.