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Blue Jays

Bayou-Diversity (14 April 2019) In Louisiana don’t bother looking for blue jays on Fridays. Friday is the day that all blue jays spend with the devil telling him of the bad things we did earlier in the week – or so I’ve been told. Because of their occasional habit of eating the eggs of other birds, blue jays are often maligned. Even though they are striking bright blue birds with black necklaces and white underparts, they get little respect. The famous naturalist John James Audubon painted three of them, referred to their beauty as physical perfection, and in the next breath denigrated their general moral character by calling them rogues, thieves, knaves, pilferers, and egg suckers. The common simile “naked as a jay bird” isn’t very flattering either.

The scientific name of the blue jay translates as “crested blue chattering bird.” As cousins of crows they are noisy, often shrieking at intruders such as humans, cats, snakes or owls. Their broad vocabulary includes jeers, clicks, and gurgles. They are good mimics and may even have a sense of humor as they frequently imitate red-shouldered hawks.

Blue jays are found east of the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the United States. In Louisiana some migrate and others are year round residents. They are naturally birds of mixed oak and beech woods but have adapted well to urban settings. They are omnivorous, which means they eat plant and animal foods, though most is vegetable matter. Blue jays are especially fond of acorns. Like squirrels, they cache thousands of acorns in the ground many of which later germinate to perpetuate forests. They build crude twig nests and lay three to six eggs that are often defended by the dive-bombing parents.

Other types of jays are found in North America. There are Steller’s jays, scrub jays, Mexican jays, pinyon jays, gray jays, and green jays. None though has the character, good or bad, of our common blue jay. Mark Twain once said, “There’s more to a blue jay than any other creature.” (Adapted from Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country, LSU Press)


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