Last weekend, when I was too busy with Thanksgiving and houseguests to post here, blue jays were even more visible in my yard than they are all summer. I tend to think of blue jays as noisy and aggressive–bullies that spend their time screaming at humans and other birds and eating other birds’ eggs and nestlings, so of all our native birds, they’re the ones I’m least happy to see.
But these birds were behaving in ways that didn’t seem jaylike–not to mention that there aren’t a lot of eggs and nestlings around in November. They were perching, jumping from branch to branch, picking at bark, eating berries. They were in groups of two, three, and four birds, especially in the large holly that’s right outside my office window. Now that I’ve done a little research on blue jay behavior, I think I might have been seeing migrating flocks. Especially since they’re no longer around this week.
Turns out that blue jays are not fierce and mean killers of nestlings. They are omnivores that eat mostly nuts and seeds, plus insects, the occasional small vertebrate, and some carrion, and an intensive study of their stomach contents found that only 1 percent eat eggs or nestlings. They are so fond of acorns, which they cache for winter, that scientists think they might be partially responsible for spreading oaks across North America after the last ice age.
Blue jays, I discovered, are related to ravens and crows and are therefore among the most intelligent of birds, possibly the most intelligent of all animals. In captivity, they use tools to obtain food, and they mimic hawk calls, either as camouflage or to warn other birds that hawks are nearby. I’ll be happier to see them in future.