Blue Jays

blue jay © Sarah Keates
© Sarah Keates

Few bird species in Massachusetts can match the blue jay’s vibrant plumage, but these clever and aggressive members of the crow family are common enough that many take them for granted. Blue jays are clever and highly vocal birds that love to forage through open forests and tree-lined suburban streets.

Identification

Blue jays measure just under a foot long from beak to tail tip, so they are among the larger backyard birds in Massachusetts. At close range, the blue jay is unmistakable: bright blue above, with a pointed crest, a straight black bill, and a black “chinstrap” from its ears down to its chest. blue jays flying overhead can be trickier to identify due to their unmarked pale bellies, but the observant birder will notice a thick white band at the end of the tail and the distinctive way that blue jays seem to “flare” their wings on the down-beat.

Behavior

Blue jays are pugnacious and highly vocal during the breeding season, chasing each other, other birds (especially hawks and owls), and family pets away from their territory with diving attacks and repeated volleys of their strident jay! jay! call.

These birds also have an amazingly wide vocal range, uttering a variety of whistles, toots, and wheedle-wheedle calls. Blue jays will even mimic the scream of a hawk in order to scare other birds! They will eat a wide variety of plant and animal foods, but acorns are a favorite.

Status

Although still common and very widespread in Massachusetts, the Breeding Bird Survey indicated that blue jays may be undergoing a quiet decline in abundance as a breeding species. Although many blue jays do migrate a short distance, there are plenty still around in the winter, though the Christmas Bird Count data indicates that these birds are also gradually diminishing in number. Learn more in the Breeding Bird Atlas 2