Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blue Jay

Hiding in plain sight is not easy.

A Blue Jay sits motionlessly while keeping one eye fixed on me. She appeared shutter-like through the wind whipped leaves. Her aim was to stay invisible to the people and dogs walking below her at the canoe and kayak launching site just south of the WeEnergies Port Washington Generating Station.

She knew I was there, but remained calm. We kept an agreeable distance between us. There's likely several light colored, brown spotted eggs nestled beneath her.

The male attends to her, but only briefly. He brings her food as she alone incubates the eggs. It's risky for the male to be at the nest for long. Predators could be watching their comings and goings.

This pair has chosen a particularly vulnerable site. They may be young and inexperienced at raising a family successfully. It's also mid August...late in the season to be nesting. Insects and caterpillars, important for hungry chicks, are not as plentiful now.

All birds take flight when threatened. It's the flight or fight response. But Blue Jays are especially wary. It's rare for a Blue Jay to allow you near....most likely, she is hiding something. This nest is just ten feet over the Lake Michigan beach in a V-shaped notch. The multi-branched tree would be an easy climb for a house cat or raccoon.
The male transfers a big green worm to her and quickly departs.

Blue Jays are widespread east of the Rocky Mountains, although declining in population.  In the western United States the Scrub, Pinyon, Gray, Mexican and Steller's Jay are common.

Blue Jays mate for life. Being a social bird, you may see Blue Jay groups in Wisconsin all year.

Only a small percentage of Blue Jays migrate.  If migrating south for the winter is their preference, the female may travel alone while the male maintains a territory for next year.

Body language is important in Blue Jay society. A raised crest indicates aggression while a lowered crest indicates a relaxed state of being. The darker band across the breast varies from bird to bird and may serve as an identifying mark to societal members.

Their call is considered harsh to us...not musical or pleasant sounding. It is more like a human scream to our ears.

Their vocalizations are known to imitate birds of prey, such as hawks, to scare away smaller birds at food sources.

I returned to the nest site the third week in August to check on the birds' parenting skills. The adults were gone and the nest was empty.

I doubt this nesting attempt was successful. Jays are known to abandon their nest if predators frequent the area.

Larger than a Robin yet smaller than a Crow, Blue Jays are oftentimes labeled as nest robbers and that is somewhat accurate.

However, their diet mainly consists of insects with acorns, nuts, fruits and grains making up the remainder.

It's possible to attract Blue Jays to your bird feeder by offering a block of seed filled suet. They will dominate the feeder, but only briefly. The smaller birds will scatter, but being shy and wary by nature, Blue Jays won't stay around long.

The pecking order will quickly return and you will have experienced another beautiful blue bird up close.


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds