Friday, November 21, 2014

Adventures in Bird Feeding, Part 2: The Majestic Blue Jays Adele Barger Wilson, author of Bonding with the Barn Swallows
Photos and text © 2014 Adele Wilson

Here in Eastern West Virginia, as well as in much of the Eastern and Central U.S., we have three beautifully colored bird species that stay around all winter -- Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Eastern Bluebirds.  This post will focus on Blue Jays.

The plumage of the Blue Jay is probably the most fascinating of all of our local birds.  While the Blue Jay's breast is a light blue color and its face a whitish blue, its crest, upper wings, and the back of its head all exhibit a brilliant solid blue. 

The black accents on the Blue Jay's face add to its mystique.  What truly gives this bird its unique appearance, however, is the mosaic pattern on its lower wings and tail, consisting of tones ranging from mid blue to bright turquoise, amazingly interspersed with black and white.

During the first winter that I put out suet cakes, I would hang the cakes from a redbud tree that was growing beside my porch.  My landlord had transplanted the tree from the woods years ago.

Blue Jay on Redbud Tree
It was my first experience in hanging out a suet feeder; so I did not know what to expect.  To my delight, among those who came to feast on the suet cakes that winter were the majestic Blue Jays.

Unfortunately, the redbud tree seemed to be developing a disease.  Its trunk had split open, and the branches were starting to split, also.  The following summer, my landlord chopped it down.

And so it was that during the following winter I no longer had a tree beside my porch.  I was forced to put the suet cakes on a different tree, one that was farther away.  That was the “tree by the driveway” that I mentioned in Part 1.

Unfortunately, no Blue Jays came to my suet feeders on the tree by the driveway.  I didn't know exactly why this was.  I suspected that it had something to do with the Blue Jays being able to find food that other people had put out for them.

For one thing, Blue Jays LOVE peanuts in the shell, in other words, whole peanuts.  They also love shelled peanuts and shelled or unshelled sunflower seeds.  Shelled sunflower seeds come in two varieties – striped and black oil – and Blue Jays love them both.  Cracking shells is no problem for these birds.
Blue Jay Peanut Feeder
Here is an example of a feeder that Blue Jays would love – perfect for peanuts in the shell!  You can click on the image to find out more.  Unfortunately, with the high winds around here, I have nowhere to hang such a feeder.  Hung from the tree by the driveway, it could easily hit a parked vehicle if the wind were to blow it down.  The only other choice would be the mimosa tree, whose branches are too delicate to hold it intact.
Peanuts in the Shell

And here is a good source of Peanuts in the shell to attract not only Blue Jays, but also other birds such as Titmice, Chickadees, and Nuthatches.  If you click on the image, you can find out how to order this 10 lb supply of unshelled peanuts.

Although I was concerned that the local Blue Jay population had somehow undergone a dire fate, I was nevertheless relieved that the Blue Jays were not competing with the other birds at the feeders.  As beautiful as they are, Blue Jays often bully the smaller birds and prevent them from eating.  But I still wondered what had happened to them.

Blue Jays gathering acorns
In early October, I went to visit a friend who has a huge oak tree in front of his house.  As I approached his door, I saw a dozen or more Blue Jays momentarily perching on the branches of the oak tree, and then quickly swooping to the ground. 

I soon observed that the Blue Jays were knocking acorns, one-by-one, from the tree.  Each time a Blue Jay would dislodge an acorn, it would quickly leave its branch and fly down to the ground to retrieve it.  Once it had gathered the acorn in its beak, it would suddenly lift off and fly over the building and out of sight.

Blue Jay gathering acorns
But the Blue Jays kept returning to the oak tree to gather more acorns.  Again, each bird would first land on a branch, knock an acorn to the ground below, and then swoop to the ground to pick it up.

Soon I noticed that the Blue Jays’ mouths looked conspicuously full.  Their checks were bulged out, as if they were holding more than one acorn at a time.  Upon looking more carefully, I noticed that, besides gathering acorns, they were also gathering unshelled peanuts!

The mystery was soon solved when my friend’s next-door neighbor told me that her grandson had thrown peanuts out on the lawn to feed the squirrels.  Little did she know that the peanuts would attract Blue Jays!

I later read that Blue Jays will actually bury acorns and peanuts for safe keeping, much as squirrels do! They will eat some of the acorns immediately, but save the others to bury and find later during the cold winter months.

One day I was wondering if we still had Blue Jays in our neighborhood.  On a couple of occasions during the summer, I had identified a couple of these birds through binoculars on the neighbor’s property, quickly flitting from trees to fences, then briefly to the ground, and then up again into the trees.  But they had never come close to my feeders and I had not seen them since those two occasions.

During my regular backyard bird watches, I began using binoculars to view the distant trees.  Over a period of time, I began to notice movement --- flashes of blue light moving from tree to tree.  Upon realizing that the most of the trees were oaks, it suddenly dawned on me that those flashes of light must be Blue Jays!

What a relief it was to know that our Blue Jay neighbors had not perished!  Thanks to my newly gained knowledge of these birds’ love for acorns, I had learned where to look for Blue Jays -- on or near oak trees!  And, despite the absence of Blue Jays at my feeders, it is consoling to know that we still have these marvelous wonders of the Avian Kingdom around us. 

Here are some gift suggestions that feature the awesome beauty of the Blue Jay.  You can click on the images to find out more:
Suncatcher - Beautiful!
Blue Jay on Snowy Branch - Charming Figurine!
Enameled Box - Inlaid Czech Crystals
Porcelain Christmas Ornament - Gorgeous!


Blue Jay Feeder - Sunset Vista Designs
Clip Christmas Tree Ornaments (2)

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