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Birds of El Paso County

Blue jays

 

October 17, 2018

Doug Harling

They are back! Well It’s Blue Jay time again. Not that they really leave us during the summer, they just stay much more secluded. Blue Jays will stay in nesting and breeding areas most of the year and are seldom seen. When fall comes around and the temperature starts to drop to freezing, the Jays make their moves. I can go most of the year and never see a Blue Jay in the habitat even though their nesting area is only a few blocks away on Jimmy Camp Creek. When fall comes, the jays come out of hiding to store food for the winter.

Blue Jays are partial to acorns and will spend most of the summer in Oak trees nesting and breeding. If you have some mature Oak trees in your yard, there is a good chance you have Jays all year. I don’t have that mature of trees yet, so I have to wait until fall for them to show up regularly. They do prefer acorns but peanuts are the next best thing. Be careful what you wish for however, because once they find out that you are a good provider, they are relentless. I may go through a bag of peanuts a week during the summer. Grackles, squirrels, doves and other wildlife love them. In the fall, that changes to a bag a day to keep the Blue Jays happy. They will start showing up more often around the end of September and they will ramp up their presence once the temperatures really drop. If you put out peanuts daily, you can expect to have them coming all day, every day, for a couple of months.

Blue Jays will store the peanuts in their favorite hiding places to eat throughout the winter. Blue Jays are a very social bird with other jays. They are very vocal and the calls do have meaning. Some calls are to alert other jays that a food source has been found and some calls are to warn off other birds. One of the more common calls you may hear will sound like a hawk. Blue Jays use this call as they are flying into feeders to scare off other birds so they can have feeders to themselves. However, it seems most birds get used to this and are not fooled at all. Other calls are more of a content call. I think they are letting the flock know it is safe in the area. There are about three different calls that I hear from them everyday and one is an imitation of my own whistle. Blue Jays can mimic many sounds and bird calls. I like to make the same whistle every time I go out to feed. They will learn that whistle and I often see them come flying in as soon as they hear me. Even the shaking of a bag as you come out to feed will work as a dinner bell. In fact, some bird supply stores even sell little bells for just that reason. It is fun to see them respond to you.

Some Blue Jays will migrate and some will stay. Studies have shown that a Blue Jay may migrate one year but not the next. Young ones are more likely to migrate than older ones. Either way, you should be able to find Blue Jays year round in El Paso County. I’m never sure if the ones I see in the fall migrate or not. I assume they are the same ones that come back every year because I can almost set my calendar to them. Much work goes into hiding the peanuts. Some jays just aren’t too smart about it. I often see a jay burry a peanut in the grass and watch squirrel wait until the jay leaves to steal the peanut. Jays are very intelligent. Some jays will even fake the hide meaning they will act like they are burying a peanut yet never put it in the ground. I’ve seen my Blue Jays throat up to three peanuts in the shell. In some of my images, you can see a peanut clear back in the jay’s throat while it is grabbing another. I’ve watched them take two and then go bury them. I have gone and looked in that spot right after and often there are none or only one peanut in the hole so I know they still had one when they left.

It is reported that this behavior helped restore large Oak tree groves in the East. I do know that peanut plants pop up every spring in my yard so they forget where some are or they just didn’t need them to get through the winter. When an acorn is buried and forgot about, you will get an Oak tree. Who knows, maybe the purpose of the jays is to plant Oak trees.

The jays do like the tray feeders best. They will eat sunflower seed and suet feeders. Keep in mind, peanuts in the shell and sunflower seeds can get a bit messy in your yard. They love if you get them shelled but that is much more costly and they can travel with a whole lot more peanuts without the shell. So even if you don’t put a lot of feeders out or if you just don’t have time to deal with backyard feeders, just put a bowl of peanuts on the patio or deck and enjoy the beauty of the Blue Jays!

Happy birding.

 

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