The Blue Jay Range Is Expanding Westward
Blue jays are backyard fixtures in the East, but find out why these adaptive birds are on the move.
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Why the Blue Jay Range is Moving West
With its distinct blue and white plumage, black necklace and pointed crest, a blue jay is hard to miss. Feisty, loud and intelligent members of the corvid family, this species is commonly seen in the eastern half of the United States. But now the blue jay range is expanding, and these birds are taking center stage in more western backyards.
Traditionally at home in eastern deciduous forests, blue jays feed on both seeds and insects. While they thrive on acorns, their versatile diet allows them to easily expand their territory to new habitats.
As more people moved west, they planted trees and put up bird feeders, creating ecological stepping stones, according to Tim Meehan, a quantitative ecologist for the National Audubon Society. “Blue jays started hopping from one yard to the next,” he says.
Tim says, looking at more than a century of data collected during the Christmas Bird Count, blue jays started to appear in the western regions by the 1960s. They’re now full-time residents in many of these areas, with reports of them venturing to the coast and as far north as Washington and British Columbia.
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Blue Jays on the Move
Often mating for life, blue jay pairs build their nests 10 to 25 feet high in the outer branches of trees.
These jays are highly territorial and will dive-bomb anything that enters their domain that they may consider a threat.
“They’re all over Boulder, Colorado, during the breeding season from March to August,” says Tim about his hometown. “After that, there’s pressure on the youngsters to go find their own habitat.” This behavior causes the jay’s range to slowly expand.
“In the winter, you see a similar pattern,” says Tim. Blue jays do not migrate long distances as other songbirds do. But in some areas, such as the Canadian provinces, they’ll move south. They often remain in areas with mild winters. Tim adds, “They only move when there’s good reason to.”
To encourage backyard blue jays, install feeding platforms near shrubs for cover. Stock the platforms with peanuts, fruit, sunflower seeds and mealworms. Suet feeders are also a hit.
It’s equally beneficial to include trees, such as American beech or native oak trees, in your landscape to provide a supply of food and a safe place to nest. Bird baths are always well received, particularly in regions with little rain.
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Steller’s Jays vs Blue Jays
The good news is that the blue jay’s expanded range does not appear to affect other members of the corvid family that are already established in the West, like Steller’s jays. Because blue jays occupy a different type of habitat, they fill an empty niche.
Steller’s jays have a similar appearance to blue jays, but the big difference comes in their coloring—blue jays show off bright blue and white feathers, while Steller’s jays have a darker look on their heads and a darker blue body and tail.
Also look for California scrub-jays on the West Coast.