Naturalist Journal: Blue Jays

Host Matthew Craig talks with Dr. Chuck Welsh about aggressive Blue Jays.

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Blue Jays


A. Tracking and listening to a symphony of Blue Jays.

Q. Well they are fairly common so I don't imagine you have to look to hard.

A. No not all. And most birders overlook them because they are so common. Despite their rather handsome blue, black, and white plumage many are annoyed with them because they can be so aggressive and obnoxious especially at bird feeders.
Q. I would never characterize Blue Jays as symphonic!

A. Well most would agree. They are not very melodic. But they do have several vocalizations other than the common squawks that people are familiar with.
When I say symphony, I just mean a small flock of them all squawking at the same time.
Q. What sparked your interest in Blue jays!

I became interested after I had a fairly weird experience last fall. After dark I fill the feeders I erected along the Conny Creek. One evening in November I heard a scratching at the last feeder. I at first suspected some rodent but my flashlight exposed a Blue Jay. I was really surprised but just assumed it was a one-time oddity. But two nights later it was there again.

Q. Are they known to be nocturnal?
A. No not at all. And this is somewhat risky business because Owls are incredibly ferocious predators and would love a shot at nocturnally ignorant prey.

Q. I recall you telling us once that they are related to Crows who are very intelligent. So maybe your nocturnal Blue Jay is smart enough to know its way around at night.
A. Yes they do belong to the intelligent Corvid family of birds. And Ya. There are advantages to night time activity. The competition for the seeds is pretty low that time of night. Hey, if he prospers and mates he will pass on the nocturnal foraging trait to his offspring. But I doubt it because I have only witnessed it out at night about 4 or 5 times in the past 5 months. But you never know for sure!
Q. You mentioned that they are aggressive, how so?
A. Well they're very territorial. In fact the small flock I have been following is usually engaged in territorial battle with a Hairy Woodpecker. When the Blue Jays hear him drumming they all go crazy and surround him and squawk until he flies off. Pretty funny because it happens almost every day.

Q. So has the woodpecker backed down?
A. He gets annoyed and will fly off, but he comes back every day! And woodpeckers are the only birds I have ever seen that will scare off a solitary Blue Jay from a feeder.

Q. Well then they do finally win over a territory what do they do.
A. Pretty much the same as all other birds. The set up shop, mate, and raise young. The males are attentive mates and feed the females as they incubate the eggs. Then both parents rear the young and stick with them until the fall. So despite their gruff behavior towards others they are good-natured towards their own.

Q. Do you have recordings?
A. Yes I do.

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