The blue jay boasts some of the most stunning features of the jay species. Many bird watchers are drawn to their vibrant blue coloring, trimmed in black. They are hard to miss and rather fun to observe. Jays, in general, are known to be intelligent, but the blue jay also possesses rather interesting, if not peculiar migratory habits.
Blue jays do migrate. Each year, groups will gather in flocks, with as many as fifty members, to migrate south along the East Coast and Great Lakes. However, some jays will stay in their northern ranges throughout winter.
The following year, the jay that previously stayed may end up flying south, while some that migrated will remain in place. Migration can vary year to year with each individual bird. Why do they do this, you ask? Read on to find out!
Some Blue Jays will stay in northern ranges during winter
Spring migration for blue jays typically begins in April and runs through June. Then, for the birds that migrate back south for the winter, migration begins in September and usually ends in October.
Interestingly enough, the blue jays that do not migrate have higher survival rates than those that do. Even short migrations can be harrowing journeys and require the birds to expend incredible amounts of energy. As long as winters are not too harsh and food sources are plentiful, it is safer for these jays to remain in their breeding grounds year-round.
Close up portrait of a Blue Jay
Some blue jays will migrate in summer. The birds that moved south for winter always return to their summer breeding grounds. On the other hand, if the jay’s breeding territory is located in a warmer region, like the southeast, they will remain year-round.
Blue jays do migrate in winter, but not all of them do. Those that already live in warmer climates will remain in their territories throughout the year. However, jays in colder, northern climates will migrate south some winters and stay in their breeding territory others.
Blue Jay on the ground with an acorn in beak
Blue jays migrate based on available resources. They depend on mast crops (the fruit of trees and shrubs) such as acorns and other nuts for their survival. Mast crops, or mast events as some call them, happen infrequently. For example, a heavy crop of acorns may only occur every few years.
Due to this, blue jays will cache varieties of nuts for later use. When stores run low, or mast crop yields are particularly poor, jays are likely to migrate south where food sources are more available.
Blue jays do indeed cache their food supply. Did you also think squirrels were the only animals that do this?
These jays love acorns and beechnuts in particular. In a good mast year, they will collect nuts and tuck them away in the hopes of returning to the cache when fresh food sources are scarce. One jay can store thousands of nuts in a single year. Do you think they remember the locations of all these caches?
Certainly not. Jays will forget, then the nuts germinate and grow more trees! Like many species, blue jays are excellent seed dispersers.
Blue Jay landing on a tree stump
When individual blue jays migrate, they typically do not travel farther than a few hundred miles. Of course, the same jay that migrated last year may not do so the next.
The irregularly migratory blue jay will travel in a flock during the seasons it chooses to migrate. These flocks usually consist of five to fifty jays, moving south by day and resting at night.
Not all blue jays migrate. Some stay in their breeding territories all year, including the winter. Although, this can vary from year to year with each individual bird.
It appears that young jays are more likely to move south for winter than adults. However, both juvenile and adult blue jays will migrate.
Blue Jay perched in a blossoming crab apple tree
Since blue jays often remain all year in regions with harsh winters - the Northeast, the Great Lakes, and even Canada - they have had to adapt to survive. One of the most important aspects of their survival is shelter.
When the weather is particularly harsh, blue jays seek cover amongst dense, evergreen foliage. Thick shrubbery offers protection from wind and blowing rain or snow.
If shelter is number one, adequate food supply is a close second. To ensure they have enough food for winter, blue jays will store acorns and other nuts throughout the growing season. Then, they will return to these stores in winter.
A blue jay in the snow
Blue jays do occasionally migrate in summer. Spring migration often begins in April but can extend into the summer months, usually ending in June.
Blue jays do migrate in winter, but migrations are irregular. Jays with breeding territories in warmer climates may never migrate because food sources are readily available and winters are moderate. On the other hand, northern jays will migrate depending on the year. If food sources are dense in their breeding territory, they are likely to remain year-round.
A small flock of Blue Jays in Naples, Florida
Some blue jays will migrate to Florida for winter when food sources in their breeding territories are scarce. However, blue jays that breed in Florida stay there year-round. They are adapted to the climate in all seasons and meals are unlikely to become scarce in winter.
Some blue jays will migrate from Minnesota in the winter, especially if their cache of nuts is running low. However, many blue jays remain year-round residents, even in the coldest regions of the state. They are well adapted to survive cold winters.
Blue jays may migrate from Michigan during some winters. It usually depends on their food supply. Cold weather and snow are not a concern for these birds. They are often year-round residents.
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