by Carl Strang
This week’s species dossier contains my observations of the blue jay, a bird I regard as the Forest Crier, who lets everybody know what is going on.
Lives in forests and old, tree-filled residential areas. Nested in the yard at Culver (15′ up in silver maple), riparian strip at Willowbrook Forest Preserve, IL (8′ up in small tree) and Maple Grove F.P. (10′ up in hawthorn at forest edge, incubating 31MY86). Bird reluctant to move when on nest. Eats mainly insects in summer, a lot of nuts and seeds in fall and winter. Forages from ground to top of canopy. Very vocal. “Eeth! Eeth!” sharp alarm call; rising, accelerating “a-a-a-ee-ee-ee-ee” (long a’s and ee’s) begging/feeding call of young (much like crows’); “ool-ool” and “teekle-teekle” calls accompanied by peculiar bobbing of body. Captive reared birds at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center often used this latter movement in concert with vocal mimicries (whistles, telephone ringing). Low, highly musical, conversation-like vocalizations among Willowbrook’s caged birds. Wild birds mimic calls of various hawks. They travel in loosely organized flocks much of the year. Mob crows in spring. Courtship feeding observed in a treetop at Maple Grove F.P. on 10MY86. Tend to take over feeders, other birds stay away until they leave.
15JE86. As a broad-winged hawk flew past, pursued by a couple of starlings at Maple Grove, a blue jay uttered a single “eeth!” call.
Late summer 86. As a flock of ground-feeding grackles flushed at the approach of people, jays and downy woodpeckers at Meacham Grove emitted contact calls, apparently as a final check of location and status before possible flight.
11MY88. Responded to deer breaking twig loudly with “thief” call, Hartz Lake.
12MY88. Jay on nest in 20′ box elder, nest 15′ up, riparian strip of Willowbrook Back 40.
5JE88. In the middle of Geneva I stood under a tree in which a pair of cardinals suddenly began to alarm-call rapidly. They were close to me, but not paying attention to me. The calls were directed at a blue jay which the cardinals chased from the isolated street-side tree to a clump of trees and brush, and continued the alarm calling and chasing until the jay left. The jay resisted some, was not driven off easily.
29MY88. Hartz Lake, in woods. A chipmunk saw me move my arm laterally, gave 3 chips increasing in speed, and ran. Immediately 2 jays feeding on the ground flew up. They were 40-50 feet away.
13JL88. Blue jay young still following, begging from parent, though they look full grown.
18OC88. Cactus Camp, IN. A blue jay yelling at me with repeated, energetic “jay jay” (“thief thief,” “eeth eeth”) calls.
24DE88. Cactus Camp. Jays doing a lot of “jay” mobbing; information about animals moving away from me?
4JE89. Elsen’s Hill Forest Preserve, IL. Teekettle call used as a warning to an intruding jay, given as the intruder landed. After several repetitions the intruder hadn’t left, and so the calling bird flew into the same oak and began to displace it (flights of 10-20 feet). It “jay”ed once, then resumed “teakettles,” continuing displacements and increasing their frequency, until the intruder left.
11JE89. Cactus Camp. Pair of jays mobbed me with loud “jay” calls.
17JE89. A broad-wing called repeatedly, in north end of Maple Grove. Jays, flickers and grackles highly agitated, flickers the most continuously vocal with “keels” every 2 seconds (2 birds). Grackles gacking frequently, too. A great crested flycatcher near, also vocal, but not clearly in response to the hawk; same with chickadees. Robins definitely disturbed, with nervous dee-dee-dee’s every 20 seconds or so. Jays in bursts, with several birds mobbing.
18AU89. Willowbrook marsh. Kestrel and jays. Latter making a strange, harsh, parrot-like call. Chasing, mobbing. Kestrel seemed to stoop at the jays a couple times, but the jays kept mobbing until the kestrel left.
31AU89. Jays vigorously “jay”-ing at a great horned owl well hidden among leaves in a willow top. Chipmunks chucking nearby, below.
3SE89. Jays maintain contacts with a-a calls (long a’s) and a variety of squeaky notes.
14OC89. Cactus Camp. Jays “jay”ing at a hawk, landing on branches nearby. Hawk appeared to be a red-tail, but was down inside forest. Jays stayed with it as it flew.
Late MY90. Cactus Camp. Jays foraged in accumulated oak leaves in the open among short brush by perching on tree or sapling branches, searching the ground, and making short flights out.