Exploring the Blue Jay Habits - What they Eat, Where they Nest

Updated October 23, 2023

The Blue Jay is one of the most colorful birds to nest in our backyards and is easy to attract to bird feeders all year.

It may surprise some that the bird really isn't blue. To explain, when light strikes the feathers of the blue Jay, all the colors can pass through except for the blue.

The blue feathers of the bird are what the human eye sees because of the refraction of this blue color.

If you find one of its feathers, hold it in different positions and you'll see that it is much darker and closer to brown.

Some might consider Blue Jays to be a bully at the bird feeder, but most birdwatchers welcome this blue and white bird to our yards.

Blue Jay At Rest

Blue Jay at Rest

Blue jays are a common bird east of the Rockies and can be found in mixed forests and woodlands, as well as in towns where large oaks provide a food source.

You can attract them by placing peanuts on a platform feeder for them to eat.

Blue Jay Call - Song

Push the play button to hear three of the most common Blue Jay calls:

The first call is the "jeer" sound, used as a contact or flocking call to gather other Jays so they can mob a predator. Sometimes it's used simply to locate its mate.

The second sound is one of many "Pump Handle" calls. The Blue Jay will bob up and down when giving this sound, which may be associated with courtship.

The third is most likely an intra-pair contact call used just between the pair during the nesting cycle and varies between pairs.


Blue Jays are medium-sized birds, ranging in length from 9 to 12 inches. Their crown and crest are gray-blue.

The wing and tail feathers are a bright blue with white and black bands. Look for this bird's narrow necklace of black feathers across the throat and around the head.

The upper parts are bluish-gray and brightest on the rump.

The lower breast, belly, and vent areas are off-white. The bill, legs, feet, and eyes, are black.

These birds can raise and lower their crest as they respond to their surroundings. Not all crested birds have this ability.

Feeding Habits, What Do Blue jays Eat

At bird feeders, Blue Jay's eat a variety of foods. They are quick to dine on peanuts, suet, and black-oil sunflower seeds offered on a tray feeder. See All the Things Blue Jays Eat

The shelled peanuts will need to be in a Peanut Feeder to keep the squirrels from eating the them. The Blue Jays will eat plenty!

Their natural winter diet consists mainly of vegetable matter, acorns, beechnuts, seeds, and berries.

At my feeders, they eat peanuts like nobody's business, probably the Blue Jay's favorite winter feeder food.

Watch them as they pick up a peanut, then put it down and select another. They are looking for the heaviest nut which they know has the most meat.

After making their choice, they fly off to eat it or store it for later by burying it in the ground or hiding it behind tree bark.

In summer, they eat larger insects like grasshoppers and caterpillars. They will also eat bird eggs, baby birds, and mice.

Although known to rob the nest of eggs and baby birds, only a small percentage of their diet comes from these sources.

Typically, the Blue Jay bird is vegetarian in winter and eats wild seeds and berries from woodland shrubs.

When feeding birds, I like to offer food types that are preferred by each species.

Blue jays prefer larger foods like peanuts and are more likely to eat them than fighting for a single seed from the sunflower feeders.

I place peanuts (unshelled) on a platform feeder to keep these birds happy and to make it easier for the smaller birds to feed from hanging feeders at the same time.

bluejay perched on tree branch

Blue Jay Perched on Tree Branch

Watch them and you'll see as they hold the nuts with their feet and then crack the shell with their bill.

Often they'll cache their food. I was watching one day as the bird came for one peanut after another from the feeder in the backyard just to hide them on my front lawn.

I have to admit I stopped feeding peanuts for a few days and started placing fewer in the feeder when I started feeding again.

I didn't want five pounds of peanuts on my lawn.

Breeding, Mating Habits of Blue Jays

Beginning in early May, the Blue Jay's courtship habits begin.

A group of seven or more will gathered together at the top of a tree. One female will be among this group.

When the female flies off, the males will follow and land near her. Bobbing their heads up and down and displaying for her.

The female will eventually select a mate from this group, and the nesting cycle will follow.

Nesting Habits of Blue Jays

Blue Jay Eating Seed Pods from Bradford Pear Tree

The Blue Jay nest is a bulky cup made of twigs, leaves, roots, grass, moss, and sometimes held together by mud. Usually placed between 8 to 30 feet above the ground.

You can try attracting these birds to nest in your backyard by placing a nesting shelf in a tree, or on the side of a garage or shed overlooking both open spaces and foliage.

Place the nesting shelf 10 to 12 feet above the ground. Choose a location that protects from predators, elements, access, visibility, and varying sunlight.

The female lays 3 to 7 greenish buff, blue, or yellow eggs with brown or grey spots.

Incubation, (gestation period is not the term) lasts 17 to 18 days. Incubation is primarily done by the female with some assistance from the male.

The male will feed the female during incubation. She may leave from time to time to bathe and stretch.

The young will leave the nest about 17 to 21 days after hatching. Both parents share in feeding the young birds.

1 - 2 broods get raised each season. Sometimes Blue jays will refurbish and reuse the nest for their second brood.

Blue Jay Nesting Stats
Blue Jay Nesting Stats
Eggs 3 - 7
Incubation 17 - 18 days
Nestling Phase 17 - 21 days
Broods 1 - 2

After the nesting season in late summer and early fall, these birds will travel in small flocks and family groups.

Blue Jays do not use their nest during winter. Sometimes nests will be used again in successive seasons, but most build new nests.

Although only partially migratory (mainly permanent residents) sometimes flocks numbering over 100 can be spotted moving south.

Do Blue Jay's Mate for Life?

Once paired, Blue Jays will be mated for life and monogamous. The male will feed female while she incubates the eggs.

If one or the other dies, the remaining partner will find a new mate.

Watch Blue Jay Give One of His Calls

If a predator, whether a hawk or cat, enters the territory of the nest, the Blue Jay will make an alarm call.

This attracts other Jays in the area and they will all mob the intruder. A group of Blue Jays is called a "crowd".

Blue Jays are extremely territorial, often diving at cats, dogs, and even humans who get near nesting and feeding territories.

They may be loud and fly close enough to cause you to worry, but don't. If they were to run into you, it would be an accident. They will turn away.

If possible, the best thing is to stay out of the area for a few days. Otherwise, just limit the time you spend near their nest site or their young.

You also may be standing near their newly fledged young, so be aware of your surroundings and act accordingly.

They are just protecting their young and their food territories. Don't make a big deal about this. You may never see this behavior.

Mainly found east of the Rocky Mountains, Blue Jays have been declining in numbers due in part to the reductions in forest and woodlands, specifically oak trees, which provide acorns, the favorite food of Blue Jays in the wild.

bluejay sunning

Bluejay Sunning

Blue Jays are members of the Corvid family, which include Crows, Jays, and Magpies. A common trait of this family of birds is their ability to imitate various sounds.

Often when flying towards a birdfeeder they'll deliver the call of a Red-shouldered hawk, Red-tailed, or Cooper's Hawk call. They've been known to imitate Crows and cats too.

In captivity, they have learned to make the sounds of some cell phone tones.

Blue Jays spend their nights in dense shrubs and during winter will gather in evergreen trees like cedars that provide warmth and cover.

Do They Go South in Winter?

Mostly a permanent resident throughout its range with some small migration movements South. Bluejays do not hibernate as some have asked.

Watch a baby Bluejay leave the nest.

Predators - Who Eats Them?

The predators of Blue Jay adults include Hawks and Owls.

The nestlings (baby blue jays) are eaten by crows, snakes, cats, opossums, and raccoons.

Although not a primary food source for squirrels, the squirrels will eat the eggs and young when food is in short supply or easy to do so.

Lifespan - How Long Do Blue Jays Live?

How long the Blue Jay lives depends on whether it makes it through its first year.

First-year, birds have the highest mortality rate. If they survive their first year, they have a good chance at a 7-year lifespan in the wild.

The oldest banded Blue Jay bird was 26 years old.

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