Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blue Jay

Nature Watch

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

“Jay! Jay!” is a familiar sound around our bird feeders. These blue jays are identified by their perky crests with blue, black and white plumage. Seeing them in large groups around our feeders is not uncommon. Find out the following information about these intelligent birds worth getting to know better.

To understand a blue jay's mood, just look at its crest. If it is up, this suggests a stressed or aggressive bird.

Blue jays are primarily vegetarians, eating mostly nuts, fruit, grain and seeds from trees and shrubs. They especially like acorns. They also eat small invertebrates such as beetles, caterpillars or grasshoppers. Having a reputation for raiding nests for eggs or young birds, studies have actually shown that this behavior is less common. Jays hold their food in their feet while pecking at it.

Blue jays store food in caches during the fall so that they may eat the food later in winter. They can carry food in their throat and upper esophagus, an area called a “gular pouch.” This “storage method” can allow jays to store one acorn in their bill, one in their mouth, and up to three acorns in their pouch. Six blue jays fitted with radio transmitters each cached up to 5,000 acorns in one autumn! It is no surprise this bird has the reputation as being a re-forester of the oak tree.

Blue jays have been observed "anting," rubbing their wings with ants. They even lose their balance as they are doing this. Why do they do this anting behavior? Scientists believe the substance from the ants can repel parasites, or perhaps help clean the feathers.

Some blue jays migrate, while others stay put all year-round. Migrating flocks of up to 250 birds have been observed flying over hawk-watching spots. The groups have included adults and young birds, but there seems to be no age difference between migrating jays and those that remain as residential birds. Some jays migrate one year but not the next. Scientists believe that the amount of jays that migrate is less than 20 percent. This migration continues to be quite a mystery.

The striking blue color with the snow as a backdrop makes a delightful winter sight. Our resident blue jays are fun to have around, and their sounds a joyful greeting to our ears. Be sure to get outside this week to enjoy what winter brings!

For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs.

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