Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are common backyard nesters in the eastern and central United States and Canada. If you have a mixed deciduous and coniferous forest around your home, you are likely to see these beautiful blue and white jays often.
A blue jay pair will build their bulky nest in oak dominant forests or mixed woods during the spring to summer breeding season. They are no stranger to suburban areas either. In fact, many thrive nesting nearer to humans. Along with their natural nesting materials of twigs and moss, jays will often include bits of paper, cloth, and other items left behind by people.
Needless to say, these birds are well adapted. Have you ever seen a blue jay nest, though? Do you know what to look for? We will discuss all of that and more in the following article!
The nest of a Blue Jay, with the mother feeding her chicks
Blue jay nests are typically placed five to fifty feet off the ground, either in the crotch of a limb or the fork of a tree trunk. These birds will utilize both deciduous and coniferous trees for nesting locations.
If nesting begins before leaf break-out, jays will choose coniferous trees as they offer better cover and protection from predators. However, when nesting begins after leaf-out, the jays usually choose deciduous trees for the nest site.
Blue jay nests often look like a bulky cup of twigs, bark strips, plant matter, and moss. The outer shell is composed of pliable twigs, often held together by mud. The inner layers usually contain moss, lichen, strips of bark, dry leaves, and grasses.
Nest lining contains the softest materials. Rootlets are highly sought after by blue jays for this purpose. The birds will travel long distances to find areas where recently disturbed soil has exposed tender rootlets.
When blue jays nest in areas populated by humans, they are likely to collect a slightly different array of materials. These nests may include paper, strings, cloth, wool, plastic, or other debris.
Nest dimensions are usually 10-12 centimeters deep and 17-21 centimeters across on the outside. The inner cup measures about 6 centimeters deep and 8.5-10.5 centimeters wide.
A blue jay sat on the nest
Blue jays typically nest between March and July. Peak laying season in the south occurs in early April, whereas mid-may tends to be peak season in the north.
In warmer regions, the nest building process may begin as early as mid-March. Construction can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Then, the first eggs may not be laid for several weeks after nest building begins.
How long blue jays' nests can vary. The nesting season typically falls between the spring and summer months.
But how early the birds start depends on the region. Jays in the south can begin nesting earlier than those in colder northern climates. A couple of months can pass between the time jays build their first nest to when the brood leaves.
If the first brood is unsuccessful, blue jays are likely to raise a second by July - when nesting season typically ends. Outside of this occurrence, two broods per season are uncommon but not impossible.
Blue jay landing on a tree stump
Both male and female blue jays participate in gathering material and building the nest. However, females typically take on more construction responsibilities, while males gather more.
Once most of the materials are collected, the female will build and shape the nest to her liking as the male passes her twigs and other pieces of debris. Females often shape the nest cup by pressing up against the sides of the interior.
Baby blue jays leave the nest around 17-21 days after hatching. There are usually 3-7 young in a brood, with 4-5 occurring most commonly.
The female incubates the eggs, only leaving the nest for short periods to meet her own needs. She does not need to hunt during this period. Instead, the male will bring her food. Once the eggs have hatched, both parents bring food for the nestlings.
A recently fledged young blue jay chick in the forest
Blue jays generally have one brood per breeding season. Although, there have been reports of jays in southern regions and suburban areas having two.
If this is a frequent occurrence, it is likely due to longer nesting seasons and better food stability. Suburban areas are likely to provide more food resources for the birds (i.e. bird feeders), while southern climates offer longer breeding seasons.
Blue jays occasionally have an unsuccessful first brood. In this case, it is not uncommon for the birds to nest a second time in the same season.
It is more common that a pair of jays will build a new nest each breeding season. However, blue jays do occasionally reuse old nests. They may do so for multiple years in a row - if the nest is in a secure and convenient location.
When blue jays choose to refurbish an old nest, they will clean it out and remodel it. Cleaning helps ensure the nest is not mite-infested.
Blue jay perched on a tree stump
Blue jay eggs are typically oval - most being uniform in shape and size. Their color can vary from greenish to buff or brown. Occasionally they will have a light blue tint. The eggs often have speckles near the more rounded end - these tend to be various shades of brown or gray.
Three blue jay eggs in the nest
What month blue jays lay eggs depends on where they live. Generally, though, eggs are laid between March and July. Peak laying season occurs in early April in warmer climates and mid-May in colder climates.
For example, in Michigan, blue jay egg sightings have been reported by May 5. In Kentucky, however, the first eggs have been recorded nearly a month earlier, on April 14. And, in states much farther south, blue jay eggs have been reported as early as the first week of March.
Close up of a Blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Blue jays do not usually build or stay in nests over the winter. They often travel in flocks, foraging throughout the day and finding shelter somewhere well-protected at night. Jays often seek cover in dense, evergreen foliage.
Such places provide a safe haven from predators and the elements. They may even tuck themselves away under the eave of a house.
Blue jays don’t always stay in the same place every night, either. If they forage too far away from their previous resting place or witness a predator lurking nearby, the birds will seek out a new sleeping location.
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