WHAT THE PECK: The Eccentric Blue Jay

(Illustration: James Tilley)

Mysterious and quirky Blue Jays are known for their bright blue bodies and noisy calls, squawking and chirping like they’ve got the latest gossip straight from the bird feeder. 

These guys are natural tricksters. They’ve been known to outsmart squirrels for a feeder’s last seeds, and tease younger jays. They have a variety of vocalizations and an impressive vocabulary. They’re master mimics too — in captivity, they can imitate human speech and even mimic a cat’s meow. In the wild, they mimic other bird’s calls.

Blue Jays communicate through body language too. When they’re nesting, feeding their chicks, or hanging out with their crew, their crest lies flat. The lower the crest, the chiller the vibe. When their crest is peaked, they’re probably feeling a bit feisty. 

You can spot Blue Jays hanging out at the edges of forests, especially near oak trees. They’ll also fly into urban and suburban regions with trees or feeders. They live about 7 years, and the oldest known Blue Jay was 26 years old! 

If you see a bird in the summertime that looks like a bald Blue Jay, don’t fret. Adult Blue Jays molt each summer, losing all their head feathers at once. The baldness only lasts about a week. 

Did you know a Blue Jay’s feathers are actually brown? Melanin, found in both human hair and Blue Jay feathers, typically appears brown. The blue colour comes from the light refracting off their feathers, with melanin absorbing certain wavelengths and refracting blue light. Try backlighting a Blue Jay feather — it will  lose its blue hue and appear brown.


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