Blue Jay - Cianocitta cristata cristata (Linaeus)
| OTHER NAMES:
Corn Thief, Nest Robber; Blue Coat; Jay; Common Jay.
| GENERAL DESCRIPTION:
Length, 11 1/2 inches. Upper parts, grayish violet-blue; under parts, gray and white.
Head, conspicuously crested; wings and tail, about equal in length, and rounded.
Crown (including crest), hind-neck, back, shoulders, rump, upper tail-coverts, and lesser
and middle wing-coverts plain dull campanula-blue or grayish violet-blue; sides of the
head, chin, and throat, very pale bluish-gray; a black collar beginning on nape (beneath
crest) and extending thence downward across end of ear region and alongside of neck and
connecting with a broader, somewhat crescentic, patch across chest, black; greater
wing-coverts, secondaries, and tail-feathers, rich cobalt or azure-blue broadly tipped
with white (except middle pair of quills), and barred with black; primaries, plain
azure-blue, paler on exterior quills; breast, sides, and flanks, smoke-gray or drab-gray;
abdomen, anal region, and under tail-coverts, white; iris, brown.
Black bars usually narrower or less distinct; black markings of head and neck less
distinct, crown (including short crest) bluish-gray; back, shoulders, rump, upper
tail-coverts, and smaller wing-coverts, dull grayish; greater wing-coverts without black
Located in conifers or deciduous trees, preferably the former, particularly cedars; a
loose, carelessly constructed affair, with ragged rim, though some are fairly well made of
sticks, leaves, bark strips, weed stems, lined with strips of bark, grass, pine-needles,
rags, paper, string, or any material that seizes the bird's fancy.
3 to 6, pale dull olive, greenish-olive, or dull buffy, spotted or blotched with dark
olive-brown; one brood only.
Temperate eastern North America, except peninsula of Florida; north on Atlantic coast to
Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick (resident), etc., in the interior to
about latitude 52 degrees, casually 56 degrees west to eastern Assiniboia, eastern North
and South Dakota, eastern half of Nebraska, eastern two-thirds of Kansas, eastern Oklahoma
and eastern half (approximately) of Texas; south to the Gulf coast.
The Blue Jay is the clown and scoffer of birdland. Furthermore, he is one of the
handsomest of American birds; also he is one of the wickedest, and therein exemplifies the
literal truth of the saying " Fine feathers don't make fine birds."
Many have been the attempts to write the Jay down a rascal, and not a few the efforts to
rehabilitate and exculpate him. But after all has been said by his defenders, the ugly
fact remains, as Mr. Job says, that the bird " has all the mischievous, destructive,
thieving traits of the Crow, and with a lot of audacity or 'cheek' thrown in for good
There can be no doubt that he is a persistent and merciless nest-robber--that he eats the
eggs and kills and devours the young of smaller and defenseless birds. Eloquent testimony
concerning the commission of these crimes is furnished by the outcry set up by such birds,
whenever they catch a Jay lurking near their nests.
But we need not take the birds' word alone for it, because he has been caught red-handed
by man, more than once, in the very perpetration of these villainies.
Yet even those who know and condemn the ways of Jays, are forced to admit that he is an
amusing rascal. In the nesting season he is comparatively little in evidence, not only
because he has his own family affairs to attend to, but because he devotes a good deal of
his time to his cannibalistic practices, concerning which he is anxious to keep the rest
of the feathered world in ignorance. But once his family responsibilities are discharged,
and there are no more nests to be robbed, his whole demeanor changes, and he becomes the
noisiest and most obstreperous creature in the woods.
" Here comes a fool; look out for him!" he yells, as you enter the woods; and
all the rest of his brethren promptly take up the hue and cry. And let anybody who
supposes that Jays can't swear, and employ the most variegated vilification and the most
fluent Billingsgate, just stand by and listen to the maledictions of a flock of them as
they mob their arch-enemy, the Great
That the Jay has a sense of humor -- which is not common among our birds -- also seems
very obvious. Often it is humor of the grim kind, but not always, as will be appreciated
by those who have read "Baker's Blue Jay Story," in Mark Twain's Tramp Abroad.
Here we have a most amusing yarn about how a Jay tried to fill up a deserted cabin with
acorns; how he worked and swore as the nuts disappeared through the knot-hole in the roof;
how one of the flock of Jays who had -been attracted by his " devotions,"
discovered what he had been trying to do, by looking in through the open door, and
promptly had a spasm; how the other Jays took a look, one by one, with the same result,
and how the whole flock then sat around in the trees and guffawed over the joke -- all of
this is not merely amusing; it is good ornithology in so far as it reports the way a Jay
James Whitcomb Riley also sketched him accurately when he said (in "Knee Deep in June
Mr. Blue Jay, full o' sass,
In them base-ball clothes of his,
Sportin' round the orchard jes'
Like he owned the premises.
Incidentally it ought to be recorded that the Jay's kleptomaniacal and hiding
propensities serve a useful purpose, for they prompt him to carry away and conceal acorns
and chestnuts under !eaves and in the grass and in hollow trees, with the result that when
a forest of conifers is cut away, chestnuts and oaks are likely to appear from the nuts
which have been hidden by these birds -- and the squirrels. This service, unconscious
though it be, ought not to be ignored, even as we reflect, when we remember the boisterous
good nature and the clown-like ways of the Jay, that a bird, as well as a man, may "
smile and smile and be a villain still."
"That a Blue Jay! Nonsense! " many people exclaim, when told that a very
melodious, Bell-like note coming from a thicket is one of the calls of a bird whose sole
vocal accomplishment, as far as they know, is his harsh cry of Thief, thief! But he
frequently sounds this note and many others that are really musical, besides which he has
considerable skill as a ventriloquist and as a mimic. In the latter capacity witness his
frequent and almost perfect imitation of the whistled scream of the Red-shouldered Hawk,
which many will insist is a deliberate attempt to terrify the other birds, and is
perfectly in keeping with the Jay's love of a practical joke.
Stomach analysis indicates that about three-fourths (76%) of the Jay's food consists of
vegetable matter and that most of this is acorns, chestnuts, beechnuts, and the like. Such
noxious insects as wood-boring beetles, grasshoppers, eggs of various caterpillars, and
scale insects constitute about 19 and 1/2% of his food. Predacious beetles contribute
about 3 and 1/2%. This leaves but I per cent. for the birds and eggs, the mice, fish,
salamanders, snails, and crustaceans, that make up the remainder of his diet. The Jay does
not eat the seeds of poison ivy or poison sumac and the distribution of these seeds cannot
be charged to him.
In the peninsula of Florida the Blue Jay is smaller and his color is paler and duller. The
white tips on the wing- and tail-feathers are smaller. So here he is given the name of the
Florida Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata florincola).
| Thrushes | Home
| Bird Classifications |