Planter of Oak Forests
eastern blue jay, Cyanocitta cristata, is a passerine
or perching bird, a member of the family that also includes
magpies and crows. Members of this family are believed
by many to be the most intelligent of all birds. They
certainly have excellent memories!
The blue jay is a large, sleek, handsome bird with a
prominent crest on his head. He is a brilliant sky-blue
above and white beneath, and his wings and long tail
are marked with pure white and black patches and stripes.
He is a bold and gregarious creature, and somewhat of
a bully to smaller birds. He can be found inhabiting
mixed forests of hardwoods, especially oak, and evergreens.
The blue jay's voice is often a noisy scream of "jay-jay,"
but he can also produce flute-like notes. He may shriek
a warning if there is a predator such as an owl or hawk
nearby; on the other hand, the blue jay himself can
give an excellent imitation of the call of the red-shouldered
hawk. He may utter this high-pitched call as he approaches
a bird feeder, causing other birds to flee in terror.
Blue jays are omnivorous. They especially enjoy eating
acorns and other nuts and seeds. Sometimes, they dig
holes in the ground and hide the acorns within. Later
in the season, they are able to retrieve them when needed.
Those acorns that are not retrieved may grow into oak
Blue jays also eat dragonflies and other large insects,
and appreciate offerings of suet and peanut butter at
feeders. Unfortunately, the blue jay has a prediliction
for the eggs and baby birds of smaller species. Fierce
Nature balances this situation when the blue jay itself
makes a fine meal for a hawk.
Blue jays usually site their nest in the fork of a tree,
preferably a conifer. Both male and female birds build
the nest. It is a bulky creation of twigs, bark, mosses
and leaves, lined with rootlets. The mother bird lays
four to six olive-green eggs, heavily spotted and blotched
with brown. (They resemble miniature crows' eggs.) As
the mother sits on her eggs, the male bird brings her
her food. These normally noisy birds are very quiet
in the vicinity of the nest. When the babies hatch,
both parents feed them. It is amusing to see young blue
jays, already almost indistinguishable from adults,
still flying after their parents demanding food!
One day, my husband, Edward, called my attention to
a stump near the corner of our house. This stump, which
had been present for over twenty years, was shimmering
and glistening in the light, due to the wings of thousands
of ants emerging from it for their nuptial flight. There
were also many worker ants crawling about on its surface.
This was an interesting but not really pleasing sight,
only two feet from the house. Suddenly, a blue jay alighted
on the stump, and began to seize ants and poke them
under its wings, first on one side and then on the other!
This behavior is known as "anting." The ants'
bodies contain formic acid, which is insecticidal. It
is thought that this chemical, when anointing the feathers,
discourages lice and mites on the bird. After the bird
has performed this ritual, it bathes, oils and preens
The range of our blue jay extends from southern Canada
to the Gulf of Mexico, east of the Rockies. Blue jays
are somewhat migratory. Although, in New York, we have
blue jays year-round, the birds at our winter feeders
may have actually migrated from colder northern lands!
Articles by Miriam Sanders