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Blue Jay

(Cyanocitta cristata)
Banded July 10, 1998 - Carmel, Indiana

General Information

Of the 40 plus species of jays found worldwide, eight occur in North America. The Blue Jay, widespread over eastern North America, is a familiar bird of parks, woodlands and backyards. It is the only North American jay with white markings in its wings and tail. Diet consists of nuts, seeds, and insects, and it will take eggs and chicks from nests. Its voice is varied. Typical call is a loud repeated peeeah. It also has a repertoire of metallic clicking, rattling, squeaking, hiccuping and bell-like notes. It will even imitate the call of the Red-tailed Hawk. It is an intelligent bird, and frequently mobs owls, hawks, cats and other predators.

The blue color of the Blue Jay is a structural color that results from the reflection of blue light from the feathers.

Adult Blue Jay
Figure 1 - Adult Blue Jay


Blue Jay
Figure 2 - Blue Jay


The facial markings of the Blue Jay are a pattern of off white, a black band that circles the head, and a violet blue crown and crest. The large bill is black but not very strong.

The wing feathers are blue, strongly patterned with black bars. White tips are prominent especially on the secondaries.

Blue Jay wing
Figure 3 - Blue Jay wing


Upper Wing
Figure 4 - Upper Wing


The primaries are longer and are black edged with blue.

The long tail feathers are blue with black barring and white tips.

Tail Feathers
Figure 5 - Tail Feathers


Alula Feathers
Figure 6 - Alula Feathers


The black barring on the alula feathers (by my thumb) are an indicator of the bird's age. Black barring occurs in older birds. Younger birds lack the black barring on the alula feathers. (Figure 7)

Younger Jays lack the black barring on the alula feathers.

Alula Feathers of Younger Jay
Figure 7 - Alula Feathers of Younger Jay


Flight Feather Molt
Figure 8 - Flight Feather Molt

During the summer, adult jays replace their feathers. Flight feathers are replaced sequentially and symmetrically (the same feather is replaced at the same time on each wing). In this photo, a new feather is emerging from its sheath. New feathers still in the sheath are also visible.


Nesting Behavior

Blue Jays are solitary nesters. Both parents construct a nest of twigs and mud in the fork of a tree. The female incubates the eggs and is fed by the male. Eggs hatch in about 16 - 18 days. Young leave the nest in another 17 - 21 days.

Banding Recoveries

The Bird Banding Lab web site reports that between 1955 and 1997, a total of 453,901 Blue Jays were banded. Of these, 23,299 have been recovered, a recovery rate of 5.13%. Banding studies show that Blue Jays can live up to 15 years in the wild. They are resident year round, but northern populations are short distance migrants. If you should recover a banded bird, please report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

Conservation Status

Blue Jays are very common over most of their range. Populations are gradually spreading west. Blue Jays breed well into Canada, but northern populations withdraw to the US during the winter months. At fall migratory concentration points around the Great Lakes, hundreds of thousands of Blue Jays can be observed as they stream south in flocks of 50 to 100 or more.

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