Blue Jays: clever mimics of the world of birds

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The other morning I followed the sound of what I thought was a baby hawk, possibly in distress. Walking deeper into the woods as quietly as I could, I stopped often to concentrate on the insistent sounds. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a juvenile hawk, or at least the nest site.

I finally reached the place where the hawk sounds were loudest. However, to my surprise, it was not a red-shouldered hawk that flew out of the tree, but a blue jay that uttered the same shrill but nasal ‘keyeer, keeyeer’. It was then that I knew I had been fooled by one of the best and most versatile mimics in the bird world.

Calling like a hawk, blue jays easily disperse other birds at the feeder. This gives them the freedom to dine at their leisure with little to no competition. They also have their own form of insect control. Did you know that blue jays often comb their hair with ants? Presumably they are using the insects to trap and eliminate lice and other irritating parasites. Very smart birds!

For at least 15 years, every spring there is a very special blue jay that comes to my feeder. This jay has always imitated the sound of an old rotary phone dialing. It’s a very unique sound. I must admit that I look forward to hearing it again every year. I know jays are long-lived, and the dialer on my phone is proof!

In addition to being loud and sometimes aggressive, blue jays can be friendly and calm. I watched as two males competed for the attention of a beautiful soft blue-gray female. Each one flew from branch to branch cooing softly and trying to get closer to her. Then a male would fly up engaging the female to do the same. The pair floated gently downward in a wing-spreading spiral, landing on the ground and then retreating to the parted branches.

This happened several times as each male took turns trying to impress the female with body movements and soft comforting sounds. The three of them flew together to another place in the forest to repeat the same dance. I can only imagine how long it took for that female to finally decide which male blue jay would be her mate. It was fun and fascinating to watch.

Blue jays are very secretive when it comes to building nests. They use alternative routes and lure locations so that no predator can easily follow them to the nesting site. They love shiny objects and often incorporate bits of foil wrap into their nests of loose twigs. They like a well-decorated house just as much as we humans! There will be as few as three or as many as seven olive-green eggs covered with brown spots.

Burying food reserves to dig up later when food sources are scarce is another tactic employed by these large 11″ to 12″ birds. His favorites are sunflower seeds, peanuts, cracked corn, pieces of stale bread or baked goods, suet, and berries. They also like the eggs of other birds, so it’s a good idea to provide them with protection in the form of birdhouses and nests.

Sometimes here in the Northeast, if the winter is relatively mild, our blue jays stay. It’s so nice to see its beautiful blue color against the white snow. Jays have a white face, black neck, blue wings and back with a blue tail trimmed with black and white feathers. Their distinctive blue crest will give a clue as to what they are feeling. For example, when they are calm, their crest flattens. On the other hand, if they are in an aggressive mood, the crest will point forward.

When both colorful cardinals and blue jays appear on a gray, snow-covered day, it’s a sight that helps the winter months seem less than long. No wonder they are featured so often on Christmas greeting cards!

My clever blue jays never cease to amaze me with their beauty, aggressive shrillness, and mimicry. I look forward to seeing them grab a bite to eat at the feeders before easily flying through our forest. They will return many times throughout the day with the now familiar ‘keeyeer’ to disperse the smaller birds, self-proclaimed kings and queens of the backyard bird feeder!

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