Blue jays are a striking presence in backyards, forests, and urban parks and are commonly seen foraging in pairs and larger groups. But how likely is it that they are with the same mate each time you spot them?
Do blue jays mate for life or even remain together for an entire breeding season? If you’re interested in finding out more, please carry on reading.
Once a blue jay has paired up with a partner, they remain bonded for life, raising chicks together during breeding seasons year after year. Mate selection follows an elaborate courtship ritual that sees potential suitors gradually whittled down to one successful male.
In the event of the death of a partner, newly single blue jays will seek a new mate to reproduce with. However, this is generally the only circumstances in which a blue jay will seek a different partner.
They maintain a strong bond with their chosen mate, exchanging tokens such as food or twigs to show their continued commitment.
Although some blue jays do migrate, most remain resident in their home territories all day long, meaning that the pair bond can be maintained throughout the year, as the birds flock together in winter months as part of larger family groups until the next breeding season begins.
To learn more about how blue jays maintain their strong pair bond year after year, and the initial calm and somewhat civilized mate-selection process that marks the start of their life together, then please read on.
Blue Jays form strong, lifelong bonds, meaning they mate for life
Blue jays form strong pair bonds and raise chicks together with the same partner year after year. The average lifespan of a blue jay is around 7 years, and as they are generally non-migratory birds, they remain in the same territories all year round, making it easier to maintain their bond from one year to the next.
Ways in which blue jays build such a strong bond include bringing each other gifts of food, twigs, bark and other nesting materials throughout the year, which helps to reinforce their commitment to each other.
Strong pair bonds have a positive influence on the survival of chicks in the short-term, and the ultimate continuation of the future of a species, due to the input of two adult birds in providing for young and keeping them safe from predators.
A pair of breeding Blue Jays, perching on a tree stump
Male blue jays engage in a prolonged series of courtship tests to secure their place as the chosen partner of a female blue jay. The process is similar in many ways to rounds of auditions or trials, until the field is whittled down to one successful suitor.
At the outset of the breeding season, a female blue jay takes flight and is accompanied by between 6 and 10 males, vying for her attention and subsequent approval. After a short flight, pursued by the courtship flock of males, the female lands on a nearby branch. The males will come to rest on the surrounding branches and begin preening, whistling, and head bobbing in a bid to impress the female.
At this point, a couple of males may decide that this is not their time, and will withdraw, leaving the remaining birds to repeat the cycle. The female flies again, lands on a different branch, is wooed by her potential suitors, and the numbers are whittled down once more. Eventually, with just one male left, the selection process is complete, and the pair is formed.
The victorious male will then bring food and twigs to his new mate, reinforcing his ability to provide for any future chicks that the pair may have and his willingness to participate in nest building.
The entire courtship process is undertaken in a somewhat civilized manner, without any squabbling or physical clashes, even as members of the original courtship flock are eliminated one by one.
Male Blue Jay displaying his feathers during courtship
Northern blue jays raise just one sole brood each year, while blue jays living in the southern United States will commonly lay two separate clutches of eggs in one breeding season.
The death of a mate is typically the only circumstances under which a blue jay will seek a new partner. A “widowed” female blue jay will seek a new partner, following the same courtship rituals used to select her original mate, and will once again mate for life (or until her current partner dies).
A pair of Blue jays at a feeder together, feeding on seeds
There is no evidence to support mourning or grieving in blue jays that have lost their mate. They appear to be relatively pragmatic, moving on to a new ‘mate for life’ if they find themselves alone following the death of a current partner.
No records exist of female blue jays mating with each other. Blue jay pairs form following a complicated courtship ritual and mate selection process, but these pairs are exclusively male-female couples.
Male and female blue jays share the same distinct bright coloring and from a distance do look very alike. However, males are slightly larger than females, so when a pair is side by side, it should not be impossible to tell which bird is which.
A small flock of Blue Jays at a bird feeder for some breakfast
Blue jays are generally not migratory birds, and the vast majority stay in their home territory all year round. This makes it easier to remain with the same partner as part of the same winter flock, avoiding the perils associated with long-distance migrations.
Each spring, the pair reunite away from the flock and begin to work together again to construct a new nest for that season. While the female is incubating the eggs, the male remains close at hand, bringing her food.
Once blue jay chicks have hatched, males and females continue to work together to raise them, with the female joining the male to forage for food to bring back to the nest after around 4 or 5 days. After the young blue jays have fledged, they continue to be supported by both parents for another week or two.
Outside of the breeding season, the pair bond remains strong, with male and female blue jays exchanging token “gifts” of food or twigs.
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