Don't get the blues. Get the Blue Jay! | How to attract Blue Jays

blue jay in the fall

Blue Jays are stunning forest, urban, and rural birds commonly found at bird feeders!

If you do not think being 'blue' is always a bad thing (and enjoy spending time in your yard), then Birds Choice has the bird for you! While many species of birds can be found in your backyard, Blue Jays are particularly attractive, loud, and clever visitors. With their striking blue, black, and white plumage, they add a vibrant touch to any garden or home. Moreover, the Blue Jay's distinctive and "musical" call is something that can genuinely elevate your outdoor experience. (Okay, musical is a stretch. It is more like the sound southern mothers make when their children are about to cause a fuss.) To entice these splendid corvids to your yard, there are several steps birdwatchers can take, including providing them with premium food and readily available water. Additionally, you can protect their movement and feeding spaces while also offering shelter in a way that is safe and conducive to their daily rhythms. Following our tips below, (almost) anyone can create a local environment to attract Blue Jays and keep them crowding back for more.

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A favorite Blue Jay food | The diet of Blue Jays

Blue Jays are omnivorous birds that have a varied diet consisting of both plant and animal matter. Some of their mainstays might shock jay lovers, so only read on if you have girded yourself! The diet of a Blue Jay typically includes insects, nuts, seeds, fruits, and small animals like snails or rodents. However, they are also known to eat eggs and nestlings of other bird species. Having witnessed this cannibalism, it still stuns this author. Fortunately, Blue Jays often rely more heavily on nuts and seeds, especially acorns, in the fall and winter. During the spring and summer, they prefer to feed on hefty insects like cicadas, beetles, and grasshoppers.

Capitalizing on this knowledge of the Blue Jay diet, birders can use a handful of feeders that cater to the favorite foods of these wily birds. One of their favorite feeders is the seed tray or platform feeder, which can hold a variety of seeds and nuts. Its larger perch size and capacity to offer large nuts like peanuts or acorns make it a MUST-HAVE to keep your local jay population happy. We recommend avoiding tube feeders for jays, as the perches are too short and narrow. Instead, look into the peanut feeder! Not a jay goes by where a peanut feeder for shelled or whole peanuts will not be emptied by the 'forest car horn.' Also, suet feeders can provide Blue Jays with high-energy food during cold weather, but be prepared to replace suet bricks every other day.

a blue jay with a peanut
Blue Jays LOVE peanuts!

When it comes to birdseed, Blue Jays go bonkers for peanuts. If given a choice, peanuts and other large tree nuts are often removed from a feeder before any sunflower seed is touched (by the jays, at least). White millet and milo can also be surprising favorites of Blue Jays. This may be more seasonal, so test small batches at different times of the year to measure how fast it is being consumed. Of course, black oil sunflower seed is the food choice that covers all needs, so nobody can go wrong by proffering a few pounds to the jays. If you have the option and budget, I recommend peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower seeds, and then any combination of the other seeds mentioned. If you cannot offer peanuts whole, then try using a peanut infused suet in a robust suet feeder!

Blue Jays have a diverse diet that can be catered to using our superb feeders and feed selection. (It can also seem scary when you consider the cannibalism.) Find the combo that works best for you!

As blue as a freshly filled birdbath

Yes, food is vital to Blue Jays. It is essential to all living organisms. But even more critical to the survival (and attraction) of Blue Jays is a place to hydrate, bathe, and remove feather parasites. And are we ever in luck! All three activities can be conducted within the confines of a Birds Choice birdbath

Blue Jays need access to fresh water to drink and cool off during the hot summer months. A clean and filled birdbath can provide them with hydration and refreshment, which can help them thrive in the heat. Nesting also coincides with the heat, and nests bring parasites. Birds use various methods for parasite control, but a favorite for jays is a shallow pool of water. Blue Jays will soak and preen to help remove parasites from their feathers and body. We recommend pairing a birdbath with an agitator or water pump to help the jays find the bath sooner, and users can also put some medium to large stones in the birdbath to act as perches within the basin.

blue jay in a birdbath
Birdbaths are great for all birds, jays included!

During winter, water can become even more inaccessible to birds. While drought seems like the greatest danger to water availability, freezing temperatures also create water scarcity! Birds Choice can help users combat this issue by tapping into our heated birdbaths or birdbath heaters. These benefits will help keep resident Blue Jays from wandering away during winter months. Keeping a heated birdbath can also help you attract other winter birds, such as cardinals and chickadees, making your backyard more lively and enjoyable to watch.

Providing Blue Jays with a clean and filled birdbath during warm months and a heated birdbath during the winter is essential for attracting and keeping these living topazes in your backyard. Not only does it help them survive and thrive in different seasons, but it can also bring joy and beauty to your life by watching them play and interact around the birdbath. Of course, birdbaths can only be at an optimal level of helpfulness if they are cleaned REGULARLY!

Protect the Blue Jay from cats and windows

Blue Jays are crafty, aggressive, and capable on the wing. However, when a jay visits the ground or a bird feeder for a nut or seed, it can quickly become the target of a terrifying predator: the cat.

To keep Blue Jays safe from outdoor cats, it is imperative to keep your cats indoors. Outdoor cats are non-native predators known to kill billions of birds in North America annually. If you have an outdoor cat, consider building a catio or providing a designated enclosed outdoor space to keep the furry cuteness away from wild birds but allow it to still enjoy the show our feathered friends offer. This way, your cat can enjoy the outdoors while keeping the birds safe.

This only solves the problem if free-roaming cats belong to you. Unfortunately, many pet owners disregard the myriad of dangers sweet kitties can be exposed to when allowed freely outdoors. While there are many options to deal with an apathetic cat owner, this space is not ideal for sharing those ideas. Instead, we offer the concept of an exclosure. Similar to how a catio keeps your cat safe and birds to move safely through your yard, a bird feeding exclosure excludes feral and other cats from accessing bird feeders, birdbaths, and at-home habitats. Using rabbit wire or other fencing with small openings can keep cats out while allowing jays and other songbirds in.

Cats are not the only at-home threat. While far less deadly, there is a lurking danger around every corner at your home... and you look right past it every day: windows.

Window collisions can be a significant threat to Blue Jays and most other bird species. Glass is not understood by birds, and frequently, birds seek refuge in the reflection of a window. Unfortunately, the sought sanctuary is a hardened mirage that leads to a painful and deadly collision. The solution to this issue is transparent (but not really). It is a solution easy enough for even an elementary student to use: an extensive collection of stickers. Using a particular grid (2x2, 3x3, or 4x4) of decals, stickers, or window chalk can reduce window collisions by over 90%! These obstructions help to break up the 'mirage' and make the solid surface more visible to birds, preventing an untimely accident.

If you build it, they will come | A backyard habitat for Blue Jays

blue jay on a stick
What actions will you take to attract Blue Jays?

Food, water, and safety from invasive predators are three empirical steps to help Blue Jays maintain long-lasting populations in North America's neighborhoods. However, without habitat, the efforts above can be futile.

Large trees are often used for nesting, but nests can be found anywhere from three feet to more than 95 feet above ground level. Tree species preferred by Blue Jays vary by location, so we encourage readers to source and plant locally native trees that are already several years old and mature to heights above 15 feet. While no tree species is preferred for nesting necessarily, planting large nut-producing trees combines shelter and food into a single source.

A healthy undergrowth of native woody and vascular plants can also benefit Blue Jays. These lower-growing plants create a habitat for larger species of arthropods necessary to feed young jays. Of course, cover for Blue Jays while feeding and caching is also provided, and nesting material can be gleaned during these grounded forays.

By creating a home habitat that mimics the natural environment of Blue Jays, readers can hope to house their own family of raucous neighbors. Of course, none of this matters if you do not live within the ever-expanding range of the Blue Jay…

Home on the range | Range of the Blue Jay

The Blue Jay is found throughout North America, from southern Canada to Florida and from the eastern seaboard west to the Rocky Mountains. The range of the Blue Jay has expanded northward and westward since the 1970s. The planting of trees across the Great Plains and the explosion of bird feeding has aided this range expansion across the Continental Divide. Given enough time, Blue Jay populations may reach the Pacific Coast. Whether this expansion causes ecological issues is a question for another day. Want to see a map of the range of the Blue Jay? Check out the image below from our friends at Flocking Around.

range map of the blue jay
The range of the Blue Jay has expanded in the past 50 years.

Don't be the person who blue it. Get some Blue Jays!

Blue Jays are beautiful and intelligent birds that can add vibrancy and charm to any backyard. To attract these birds to your yard, creating a habitat that mimics their natural environment, with plenty of trees, shrubs, food sources, and water, is crucial. Providing high-quality birdseed (especially peanuts), a clean and filled birdbath, and safe spaces for nesting and feeding can also help attract Blue Jays. Take the crucial step of keeping them safe from outdoor cats and window collisions. By taking these steps, you can create a local environment to attract Blue Jays and keep their flocks crowding back for more, providing hours of delight and beauty to your outdoor experience.

birds choice blue jay collection


Photo Credits

1) "Blue Jay in the Fall" | N. Lewis | NPS | CC0

2) "Blue Jay with a Peanut" | Philip Turnbull | CC BY 2.0 | | Cropped (16:9) and Noise Reduction

3) "Blue Jay" | Susan Young | CC0

4) "Blue Jay at Moosehorn NWR" | Keith Ramos | USFWS | CC0

5) "Blue Jay Range Map" | ©