Blue Jays--Key to Forest Recovery

Blue jays are birds people notice because, for one, they’re bossy. You have probably seen smaller birds fly off to wait until a blue jay leaves or is distracted before they fly back in.  And they’re noisy. One of their main calls is a loud screech.

In defense of blue jays, a local birder commented at one of the local Audubon bird counts that they have seen smaller birds be just as bossy as jays - they're just smaller.  Plus, the blue jay’s jeer call alerts other animals to danger or calls in other jays to mob a predator like a hawk or even a house cat.  And, they use this call when they’re trying to find other blue jays.

Eastern blue jays eat about anything, from nuts, berries, seeds, caterpillars, insects and now and then, an injured mouse, bat or frog.  While we see them around houses and pastures, they’re mostly forest birds.  They are also a key species in forest recovery.

Eastern blue jays carry acorns far from a parent tree and look for openings in the forest – filling in or expanding the oak forest.  Squirrels, on the other hand, hoard acorns near the parent tree– they don’t carry them very far.   One blue jay can carry 5 pin oak nuts in its throat and one in its beak in one trip so they can move or “plant” a lot of acorns.  Plus, they’re clever – they pick the healthiest nuts to move to their storage area. 

By scattering acorns, blue jays are re-establishing oaks that support a lot of wildlife.  Acorns, for instance, make up at least a quarter of the diets of white-tailed deer, raccoons, gray and fox squirrels, wild turkeys, and white-footed mice which in turn provide food for bobcat, fox and other animals. This is why the blue jay is considered such an important or “keystone” forest species. 

Blue jays have been credited with rapid expansion of forest trees, including chestnut, beech and oaks, after the glaciers receded from the northern United States.  Today, they are still filling in openings and reconnecting forests, larger forests needed for birds like scarlet tanagers and other wildlife. 

With new information about blue jays, these beautiful bossy birds are appreciated for their industrious forest recovery, rather than their big mouth.