Common Name: Blue Jay
Latin Name: Cyanocitta cristata
Size and identifying feature: 25-30cm in length. About the same size as a robin, easily identified by the blue colour and blue crest on top of the head.
Sounds: Jay-Jay-Jay, fee-der-de-lurp, queedle-queedle-queedle
Habitat, Diet and Ecosystem Role
Range: Common across Eastern Canada and the United States. Starting to occur more in the West from Saskatchewan into Alberta.
Habitat: Forests, particularly those with oak trees but is a frequent visitor to backyards.
Diet: Insects, seeds, nuts, carrion, small mammals and birds
Ecosystem Role: Insect and pest control, disease control through scavenging and seed dispersal. Blue Jays cache seeds, primarily in the fall and winter and those they do not eat have been spread away from their natal area to grow
With a strong connection to oak forests, blue jays did not historically live in Alberta. Over the last 40 years sightings have increased and blue jays can now be seen breeding and living year-round in the province. What has caused their expansion is up for debate but their adaptability to urban living and landscape changes that made movement along riparian corridors easier have been suggested.
Blue jays are excellent mimics copying other birds including hawks and other predators. Sometimes they use these sounds to scare other birds off of feeders so they can have exclusive access. Not only can they mimic other birds but they have been known to imitate people and cats as well!
Like the Northern Flicker blue jays use ants for parasite control. They will “bathe” in ants which release their defensive chemical, formic acid. This happens to act as a great deterrent for mites and other parasites.
Blue Jays are social birds with strong bonds to their mate and extended family.
Although they appear blue, the pigment in Blue Jay feathers is actually brown! The blue appearance is due to refraction of light. The way light hits the feathers causes the blue wavelength to be reflected back while all other wavelengths are absorbed by the melanin in the feathers.
Blue Jays are not necessarily the most melodic birds but luckily for those who don't love their sound, they go pretty quiet during the spring and summer when they are nesting. Calls increase in the fall and winter as they work together to avoid predators and find food.
In an effort to stockpile calcium, Blue Jays have been known to chip away at light coloured paint and store the chips. If you notice them chipping away at your paint, try placing egg shells nearby for them instead.
How are Blue Jays are faring in Calgary?
Every May citizen scientists led by Nature Calgary perform a spring bird count. Not only do these counts help estimate the presence of birds now but over time these numbers can help identify trends in bird populations as the city continues to grow and change. The count covers an 80km radius from the center of the city as seen in the image below. To the right are population trend numbers for Blue Jays between 1979 and 2021
The Christmas Bird Count is another way that citizen scientists are helping keep track of birds across the world. Every year people are invited to document birds both in their yards and while they are out over a specific 24 hour period in December. This past December, 137 Blue Jays were recorded, a 22% increase over the 10 year average.