Blue Jays inhabit the Piney hills

By Dr. Jay V. Huner
Journal Correspondent

Nicknames follow you through life. My given name is"Jay" and my life long nickname has been"Jay Bird"! The Blue Jay is a bird found nearly everywhere from urban centers to remote rural areas. The original home range extended from the Atlantic Coast westward to the Great Divide and from the Gulf of Mexico into southern Canada. More recently, Blue Jays have extended their range to the northwest Pacific Coast.

The dominant Blue Jay color is blue but there are no blue pigments in its feathers. Rather, there are small air-filled cavities that scatter blue light and absorb longer red wavelengths. As a result, the dominant perceived colors are various shades of blue.

But, the Blue Jay is not solid blue. They are light gray and white below, and have numerous black highlights here and there. There is a conspicuous black necklace. The distinctive blue crest on the head has a black trailing edge. The edge of the tail is white and there are white highlights on the body, especially the wings.

Blue Jays are noisy birds. It's hard to miss the strident "jay, jay, jay" call. [Some suggest the sound is "jeer, jeer, jeer''.] Their "song" is a soft, quiet conglomerate of clicks, chucks, whirrs, whines, and liquid, bell-like notes. The bell-like notes sound a bit like "tweedle, tweedle, tweedle" to me. And, Blue Jays are mimics being able to imitate human words and strident hawk calls, especially those made by Red-shouldered Hawks.

These birds are known for their intelligence, a common trait for these members of the bird family Corvidae. Corvids include all of the jays, magpies, nutcrackers, crows, and ravens. All of these birds do learn from past experiences and communicate this knowledge to their associates.

Blue Jays eat just about anything they can find including carrion, seeds, especially acorns, and grain crops, small vertebrate animals including other birds and nestlings, and all manner of invertebrates. They are constant visitors to home bird feeders enjoying, especially, sunflower seeds and suet blocks. Some home owners aren't very happy to have their feeders being "hogged" by the local Blue Jays. But, one can thwart jays with various feeders that allow small birds to feed while excluding larger birds like the jays.

There are those who don't much like Blue Jays because they think the birds destroy song bird eggs, hatchlings and nestlings. It is true that jays do this when the opportunity presents itself. But, the degree to which they impact other birds seems to be over stated.

Blue Jays and their relatives regularly "cache" food items in hidden areas to provide food for lean times. Their oral cavities are large enough for them to carry a load away for hiding here and there. They don't, however, recall where they have hidden all items. As a result, seeds, especially tree seeds, ultimately sprout and forests are enlarged or reseeded where, for example, fires have cleared large areas.

Mobbing is a behavior where birds gather to attack and drive away a predator, commonly a hawk or an owl. If you hear a cacophony of Blue Jays calls, go to the source and you're pretty to find a flock of jays harassing a hawk or an owl. If you can't find a bird and look very closely, there is almost certainly a snake that's the object of their concern.

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