Blue Jays are one of the most common songbirds. With its blue, white and black plumage, this large bird is quite noisy and is known for its intelligence. As one of the most colorful birds found in the backyard, the Blue Jay can generally be found nesting, eating and collecting acorns in an urban setting. Because of its size, the Blue Jay can be a bully to smaller birds flocking to and from bird feeders. Backyard birders can adjust the kind of bird food they put into their feeders to attract more (or less, if you put opposing foods out there!) Blue Jays to their yard. Let’s dive in below, and learn more about what Blue Jays eat.
Location and Feeding Habits
Blue Jays can be found year round in the middle to eastern parts of North America. During non-breeding season, they can be found in small flocks in the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada. From mixed forests and woodlands to urban areas in large oak trees, Blue Jays make themselves at home wherever food is present. Due to their fondness of oak trees, they can often be spotted nesting in them.
Blue Jays prefer tray feeders, or hopper feeders. Their size has them preferring feeders that are posted rather than hanging. But what do Blue Jays eat? See the list below to learn more.
- Sunflower seeds
- Vegetable matter
By keeping these foods available, Blue Jays are less likely to invade other feeders and bullying the smaller birds that are trying to feed. In particular, they enjoy peanuts on a platform feeder. This is a great way to get to watch them up close.
Since the Blue Jay is intelligent and adaptable, their diet is fulfilled through a range of items no matter the season. In the winter Blue Jays will eat any source of vegetable matter they can find as well as beechnuts and berries.
During spring and summer, it is not uncommon to find them feasting on larger insects and rodents like grasshoppers and mice. It has been noted, that if a Blue Jay is in need of food, they will even eat bird eggs and baby birds. This however has only been noted in a small percentage as Blue Jays are typically vegetarians.
When feeding birds, I try to offer food that individual species enjoy. With Blue Jays, they tend to really like nuts, and will go for that more so than fighting over seed. I like to feed peanuts with the shell on to Blue Jays. I will place these on a platform feeder to keep the Blue Jays at bay and busy while the smaller birds in my yard flock to the hanging feeders.
It is quite entertaining to watch these brightly colored birds take a crack at the peanuts. They will hold the nuts with their feet and with their beak, crack the shell open. Another thing that they like to do is collect and hide their food. Whether its acorns or peanuts, they will cache their food for later feasts in trees and lawns. Because of this, it pays to not overfeed them; your lawn will be full of peanuts.
A Blue Jay’s nest is bulky, and made from a variety of materials that include:
Often the nest is made from mud. These nests can be located anywhere from 8 to 30 feet off the ground. To attract Blue Jays to nests in your backyard, place a nesting shelf in a tree. These shelves can also be placed on the side of a garage or shed. Location of these shelves need to consider the bird’s view. They prefer open spaces and foliage, and it should be at least 10 to 12 feet off the ground. The nesting shelf should be protected from predators and the elements as well.
Blue Jay Behavior
Part of complex social systems, Blue Jays will begin to court in the spring and will generally group together (7-8 birds) in one tree. There is always one female among this flock, and she will choose her mate from this group. These birds mate for life and will remain with their mate throughout the year.
Only the female incubates, and will lay 3 to 7 greenish blue or yellow eggs with brown or grey spots. Incubation last 17 to 18 days and is done primarily by the female. However, the male may provide some help. While this is taking place the male will provide all of the food.
After the nestlings hatch, the male will provide food while the female broods them. This will go on for about 8 to 12 days. After this time, the female will return to food gathering. The young will remain with their parents for up to a month, but sometimes this could take up to two months. One to two broods will be raised each season.
Blue Jays often mimic other birds such as hawks as well as a cat’s meow and human sounds like cell phones. These vocalizations are done to scare away other birds from feeding spots. Most humans do not like how aggressive these birds can be. This is why I find it important to help in feeding them what they want so that they will leave the other birds alone.
Predators of Blue Jays
The main predators to Blue Jays are Hawks and Owls. As for nestlings, they are often attacked by Crows, cats, snakes, opossums and raccoons. Sometimes squirrels have been known to eat the eggs when food is in short supply.
A Blue Jay’s Lifespan
The average lifespan of a Blue Jay is about 7 years in the wild. The oldest known banded bird was noted to be 26 years and 11 months old. Blue Jays in their first year have the highest mortality rate.
Interesting Behaviors Facts
- Blue Jays can be very territorial. They will dive at cats, dogs, and even humans. It is important to stay away from their nesting and feeding areas when they are due to be present. All that to say, they will not actually attack. They may be loud and fly close, but they won’t hurt you.
- Unfortunately, Blue Jay numbers are declining. This is mostly due to the reduction of forested areas and woodlands, especially in urban settings in regards to oak trees.
- Thousands of Blue Jays migrate in the Great Lakes and around the Atlantic coast areas. Their migration patterns, although studied, are still quite mysterious in understanding why they travel the way they do.
- Captive Blue Jays have been noted to use strips of paper to rake in food from outside their cage.
- A Blue Jay’s attitude can be detected by their crest. When feeding peacefully, their crest is down. If the crest is raised, the Blue Jay is irritated and will be aggressive.
- The Blue Jay has a black bridle located across its face, throat and nape. Because the variations are extensive, it is thought that this is what helps different species recognize one another.
- Want to bring hummingbirds to your backyard? Read about how in Creating a Hummingbird Sanctuary.
- Interested in birding? Dive right in and get started with our Beginners Guide To Birding.