Blue Jays

Blue Jay at North River (photo: Scott Santino)
Blue Jay (Photo: Scott Santino)

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 jay © Sarah Keates
© Sarah Keates

Blue Jays are pugnacious and highly vocal during the breeding season. They'll chase away fellow Blue Jays, other songbirds, hawks, owls, and even family pets, driving intruders from their territory with diving attacks and repeated volleys of their strident jay! jay! call.

These birds also have an amazingly wide vocal range. They can utter a variety of whistles, toots, and wheedle-wheedle calls. Blue Jays can even mimic the scream of a Red-tailed Hawk in order to scare other birds!

Blue Jays will eat a wide variety of plant and animal foods, but acorns are a particular favorite. They also won't pass up a freshly-stocked bird feeder filled with seeds!

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.

Many Blue Jays do migrate a short distance in winter, but plenty are still around in the cold months. However, data from the Christmas Bird Count indicates that these overwintering birds are also gradually diminishing in number.

Learn more in the Breeding Bird Atlas 2 >