Bluebird vs Blue Jay: How to Tell the Difference

With similar names and similar colors, these two bird species are often confused. Here's how to tell the difference between a bluebird vs a blue jay.

What’s your favorite blue bird? Surprisingly, there are many blue colored birds out there. Both bluebirds and blue jays have blue feathers and blue in their names, so they’re often mixed up. But it’s actually pretty easy to tell the difference between a bluebird vs a blue jay. Here’s what to look for in your backyard.

bluebird vs blue jayCourtesy Frank Rodin

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern bluebirds are smaller songbirds vs blue jays, about 7 inches, with a blue head, back and wings, a rusty-orange breast and a white belly. Females have more subdued colors. They will visit your yard for mealworms and suet feeders, as well as berries in winter. Follow these tips to attract bluebirds. Like blue jays, eastern bluebirds are present year-round in the eastern United States. Their range extends north in summer. In the Rocky Mountains and beyond, look for mountain and western bluebirds.

Eastern bluebirds prefer wide open spaces like meadows or agricultural fields. You’ll most likely spot them sitting on posts, power lines or tall vegetation. Bluebirds are cavity nesters, and they will use nest boxes. Here’s how to make a DIY bluebird house.

“Eastern bluebirds are so beautiful and entertaining. My husband and I love feeding them and watching them hop around our rural yard,” says Lucinda Moriarty of East Hampton, Connecticut. If you see a bluebird, here’s what it means.

Bnbbyc16 John Pizniur 001Courtesy John Pizniur

Blue Jays

Much larger than Eastern bluebirds, blue jays measure 11 to 12 inches. Like the bluebirds, they have blue backs, but also look for a gray breast, robust bill, and a crest, or pointy tuft of head feathers. Males and females are nearly identical.

One way to tell these difference between bluebirds vs blue jays is by listening. The jays make their presence known in the backyard with raucous squawks. It’s as though they like attention and don’t take kindly to being ignored! Jays eagerly raid bird feeders for sunflower seed and are especially fond of peanuts. “Even though they are kind of rowdy, I enjoy putting peanuts out for them. And blue is my favorite color!” says Karen Larsen of Viborg, South Dakota.

Among the most familiar fliers in the Corvid family, blue jays live year-round in the eastern U.S. and parts of southern Canada. They’re also expanding westward.  “The blue jays I see have never been anything but boisterous, active and protective. They announce the filling of the feeders and warn of the impending arrival of a hawk,” says Phyllis Schweinzger of Elkhart, Indiana.

In western parts of the country, look for Steller’s jays and California scrub-jays.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.