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Blue Jays and the Great American Backyard Bird Count

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

The Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) loves peanuts in the shell, but so does his closest relative, Stellar's Jay.

The Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) loves peanuts in the shell, but so does his closest relative, Stellar's Jay.

Counting Jays That Are Making a Comeback

The global Great American Backyard Bird Count of the Audubon Society reminds me that I had not seen a blue jay myself in several years until about 2015. Then, the birds seemed to make a comeback to Central Ohio, the state being a native territory for them. Blue jays are not endangered, but they may change habitats in order to find more food and trees for nesting. Ohio parks have undergone improvements in the last few years that seem to bring in more birds with additional plantings of shrubs and trees.

Now, every February when the bird count is held, my state's participants become more and more excited at the sight of these jays and other colorful birds on their own properties. Local bird watchers also report seeing the jays in our large metro parks that include sizable forests at Blendon Woods and Blacklick Woods within our city limits.

Are you a bird watcher? Such an enthusiast is defined as a person that travels at least a mile away from home to view birds, but this requirement in not necessary for the backyard bird count. Luckily, I lie next to a forest and l also have a yard, so I don't have to travel to be a bird watcher!

Each February, you can have fun if pull out some binoculars and a camera and collect photos of as many different birds as possible. You can send them as entries into the associated bird count photo contest.

Some People Like Blue Jays

In elementary school I learned that blue jays are aggressive loud-mouths, even attacking other birds around food sources. Having never seen one, I knew nothing about this until I heard it in school. Now I know that magpies can be even more "ill mannered" and that jays are Corvids that are related to crows, magpies, and other types of jays.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, attorney Atticus Finch tells his son Jem, "Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Many people don't like the idea of shooting any species of birds at all.

Later in the book, Miss Maudie explains the statement above to Jem's sister, Scout, "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

Some people have been taught since childhood to shoot birds for fun or to eliminate them as unwanted vermin. However, bird watchers would rather photograph and count them.

Blue Jay Characteristics

Certain old superstitions hold that this bird is a servant of the devil, similar to superstitions about black cats.

Some of the first naturalists' drawings of the bird in the 1750s featured an emphasis on the strong black beak, open in a squawking attitude. Thus, these birds did not seem very friendly to its discoverers.

The bird is territorial, aggressive, and imitates the calls of larger predatory birds to scare off competition for food and potential invaders of its nests. They can imitate the sounds of red-shouldered hawks and even beat them in an aerial fight.

A close relative, the Stellar jay, displays almost identical characteristics. Those who study birds report finding at least 10 varieties of jays in total, all with similar characteristics visually and behaviorally.

American Habitat Range and Hybrids

Blue jays live across large portions of the U. S. A. Please see the map below for these color-coded regions:

  • Yellow: Breeding range
  • Green: Year-long range
  • Blue: Winter range, including Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and intermittently Colorado.

Some Migration Changes

In the 2010s, the blue jay was most often counted in the northern states of America and the Pacific Northwest Coast of southern Canada, especially British Columbia.

The green area on the map now extends at least one state to the west along its western boundary and over the Rocky Mountains that previously stopped further migration. A need for additional food, trees, and mates may have caused the westward extension.

The bird has intermittently expanded its territory to Colorado as well, since scientists feel that they have seen hybrids of the blue jay and Stellar jay there. Another possibility is that the blue jay mates with Stellars in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and the young hybrids eventually migrate into Colorado.

Estmated Habitat Range of Blue Jays

The green portion of the map now extends to the west at least one state's width, north to south, to the Rocky Mountains.

The green portion of the map now extends to the west at least one state's width, north to south, to the Rocky Mountains.

It is an eerie coincidence that Stellar-blue jay hybrids were discovered about the time that the first Hunger Games film was released in 2012.

The blue jay previously gave way territorially to the Stellar jay in the West, but naturalists and ornithologists believe that the two species are now crossbreeding to from a hybrid, since they are the only two species in the genus Cyanocitta. Both species can imitate other birdcalls, both jay species eat plant and animal materials, and both are highly attracted to unshelled peanuts.

We many more Stellar-blue jay hybrids in coming years from Canada to South America during the Great Bird Count as blue jays continue to move into western states inhabited by the Stellars.

Stellar or Stellar's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) was discovered west of the Rocky Mountains in 1741.

Stellar or Stellar's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) was discovered west of the Rocky Mountains in 1741.

Habitat of Stellars

blue-jays-and-the-great-american-backyard-bird-count

Is a Mockingbird a Jay?

Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are similar to jays and can mimic their birdcalls. They live and breed from about Lattitude 42° North all the way southward through Mexico and most of Central America. Some have been seen outside these boundaries as well.

These birds can imitate human, animal, and inanimate object sounds with ease. They can sound like another bird species, a cat, a gathering of chittering insects, a washing machine, or a car alarm. they can also attack and win against the red-shouldered hawk.

The North American species of Mockingbird is the Mimus polyglottos, whose Latin name means "many-tongued mimic." In fact, these birds can learn 200 songs and a variety of noises.

Blue Jays, Jabberjays, and Mockingjays

To date, no one has formalized a concrete migratory pattern for the blue jay. They seem to go where they want, when they need to do so.

As of this writing, no one has reported evidence of a blue jay/mockingbird hybrid that is the Mockingjay in the Hunger Games books and films.

It is an eerie coincidence that Stellar-blue jay hybrids were discovered about the time that the first Hunger Games film was released in 2012. Audubon maps revealed blue jay habitats abutting Stellar habitats (USGS Map, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; National Geographic; Audubon; all as early as 2011). More research needs to be done concerning the possibility of the Mockingjay.

Mockingjay from The Hunger Games.

Mockingjay from The Hunger Games.

Hybrid Jays in Fiction and Reality

In the book and film, this bird resulted from a failed government experiment. The Panem Capitol chiefs bred jabberjays to spy on citizens in the districts. The birds were stool pigeon that memorized and repeated whole verbal transactions. As the citizen rebels caught on this, they sent back false information via the birds, which were then abandoned by the government.

Next, male jabberjays mated with female mockingbirds and hatched Mockingjays. The latter mimicked both birdcalls and human voices and were uncontrollable by the government. Could this really happen? It may be a possibility.

Jays Meeting in the Lower 48 States

Counting for the Great Backyard Bird Count

As you count birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count, and any time you watch for birds, take notice of any blue and Stellar jays, possible hybrids, and Northern Mockingbirds.

Take pictures if you can, enter the photo contest, and if you ever think you see an actual Mockingjay, be sure to take pictures and document the bird. Then notify the local branch of the Audubon Society, your local department of natural resources, and perhaps your local zoo. Happy bird watching!

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

Deborah Minter from U.S, California on December 25, 2017:

Now, that you mention it... I used to see blue Jays all the time in California, now it's only once in a while.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on August 02, 2015:

Patty, this was an interesting hub on blue jays (I saw all the time in New Jersey and not so much here in Ohio) and mockingjays. Thanks for sharing. Voted up!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 09, 2014:

@TurtleDog & MsDora -- And I don't think I want to tangle with a cross between a Blue Jay and Stellar Jay's baby and a Mockingbird. Whew!

Thanks for comments and votes - Happy bird counting! -- It turns out that Ohio has an amazingly large influx of Snowy Owls this year. They are beautiful and often look like they are laughing.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 09, 2014:

Thank you for this article, full of bird beauty. The fact that there are still things not figured out about them, makes them mysterious and heavenly. Great pictures too!

TurtleDog on January 08, 2014:

Wow great post. Loved the part about Jays and Mocking birds. A lot of fun to read and some cool facts I can impress friends and loved ones with... Thanks. Voted up AND awesome

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 08, 2014:

That is quite a memorable sight, the planting of a peanut by a jay. I wish I'd seen this myself!

A neighbor a few years ago was fortunate to see a group of about two dozen Blue Jays fly through her yard at once. It must have looked like a movie.

Sadie Holloway on January 08, 2014:

This is a very thorough and detailed hub, with great graphics and resources. I remember the first time I saw a Blue Jay land in our backyard and plant a peanut in the dirt. I was about 5 at the time and I remember being quite fascinated by the bird's behaviour.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 07, 2014:

@DeborahNeyens - I will need to go on a group hike in one of the local parks soon and look for those jays! I miss seeing them and their peanuts.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on January 07, 2014:

I've never heard of a mockingjay (I haven't seen or read the Hunger Games) but I have about 4 blue jays at my bird feeder right now. I love having them around; they are very entertaining.