What Foods Do Blue Jays Eat?

If you want to feed these bold birds in your backyard, you need to know what blue jays eat. Experts reveal the best foods to attract blue jays.

Do Blue Jays Eat Insects?

blue jay eating insectCourtesy Deborah Morrison
Blue jay catching a bug

“I saw a blue jay flying up to the eaves of my house and then down to the roof. It was dissecting a wasps’ or bees’ nest. Do blue jays eat those insects?” asks Melody VanOteghem Milan, Illinois.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “Blue jays are fun to watch. These large, blue colored birds are clever and adaptable with a varied diet.

In addition to nuts and seeds, blue jays may eat other food sources such as berries, bugs and frogs. They usually don’t eat adult bees or wasps, but sometimes they will break open a wasps’ nest to eat the soft larvae inside. Around a small wasps’ nest, blue jays have been observed catching and crushing the adult wasps and dropping them on the ground. Then, with the stinging adults out of the way, the jays will break off pieces of the nest to eat the young wasps inside it.”

Here’s why the blue jay’s range is expanding westward.

“Blue jays prefer to eat their food from tray and hopper feeders, or another flat raised surface. Their robust bill can make quick work of peanuts, acorns, sunflower seeds and even suet. We often joke that these smart birds seem to have what we call “peanut radar.” We can go for days without seeing any blue jays, but the minute we put out the peanuts, they quickly appear. Peanuts not only provide protein for birds, they’re also a good source of unsaturated fat,” Kenn and Kimberly explain.

Meet 8 types of jays you should know.

Blue Jays Crack Open Nuts

Blue Jay With Peanut In TreeCappi Thompson/Getty Images
Blue jay eating a peanut

“How do blue jays know to crack open peanut shells to get the nut inside?” asks reader Dennis Hockensmith of Boonsboro, Maryland.

Kenn and Kimberly say, “Blue jays are intelligent and adaptable, with omnivorous tastes. Acorns, hazelnuts, hickory and other wild nuts can provide 40% or more of their diet. To break these open, jays hold them against a perch with one foot and hammer on them with their beaks.

Peanuts are not native to North America (and technically they’re classified as legumes), but they’re somewhat similar to native nuts, and curious blue jays will experiment and learn to crack them open. They also learn by watching each other, so if one jay has figured out the peanuts, others will quickly follow their example.”

Don’t miss these beautiful blue jay photos.

Do Blue Jays Cache Food?

what do blue jays eatCourtesy Linda Taylor
Blue jays may store extra seeds and peanuts to eat later.

The blue jay has an expandable throat pouch where it can temporarily store peanuts or acorns. These birds also cache seeds and nuts by shoving them into the soil, to retrieve later. Uneaten caches sprout into new oaks, walnuts, pines, and other trees, to keep forests renewed…or to tickle us with an unexpected cluster of sunflower seedlings!

“The blue jays that visit our feeders are difficult to photograph. They’re very skittish, darting in to snatch a peanut and then quickly flying away to either enjoy it or stash it for later. Oftentimes, the greedy jays store one peanut in their craw before plucking a second one and flying away,” says Linda Taylor of Waco, Texas.

Next, learn how to tell the difference between bluebirds vs blue jays.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard. Fascinated with the natural world since the age of 6, Kenn has traveled to observe birds on all seven continents, and has authored or coauthored 14 books about birds and nature, including include seven titles in his own series, Kaufman Field Guides, designed to encourage beginners by making the first steps in nature study as easy as possible. His next book, The Birds That Audubon Missed, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2024. Kenn is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has received the American Birding Association’s lifetime achievement award twice. Kimberly is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in northwest Ohio. She became the Education Director in 2005 and Executive Director in 2009. As the Education Director, Kimberly played a key role in building BSBO’s school programs, as well as the highly successful Ohio Young Birders Club, a group for teenagers that has served as a model for youth birding programs. Kimberly is also the co-founder of The Biggest Week In American Birding, the largest birding festival in the U.S. Under Kimberly’s leadership, BSBO developed a birding tourism season in northwest Ohio that brings an annual economic impact of more than $40 million to the local economy. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms Magazine, and coauthor of the Kaufman Field Guides to Nature of New England and Nature of the Midwest. Accolades to her credit include the Chandler Robbins Award, given by the American Birding Association to an individual who has made significant contributions to education and/or bird conservation. In 2017, she received a prestigious Milestone Award from the Toledo Area YWCA. Kimberly serves on the boards of Shores and Islands Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy.