It’s easy for beginning birdwatchers to get bluebirds confused with blue jays.
Both bluebirds and blue jays have brilliant blue feathers. The shades of blue can be hard to tell apart. Both bluebirds and blue jays have strong singing voices.
But is it the bluebird that makes the hammering sound or is it the blue jay?
Is it the blue jay or the bluebird that has the wide tail feathers? And which is the bird with blue feathers that loves to pick out the best bits from the bird feeder?
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the difference between bluebirds and blue jays.
We’ll start with a quick summary.
The major differences between Bluebirds and Blue Jays
Bluebirds, at least the North American bluebirds, are small thrushes. You could think of them as robins with blue feathers.
North American bluebirds fly south for the winter and north for the summer, but they like to stop at the same places every season.
Bluebirds devour insects. They feast on bugs at every stage of their development, from larvae and grubs to mosquitoes and moths in mid-flight.
Bluebirds can be fun to watch. They are highly intelligent birds. They can solve puzzles to find food. They can defend their hoarded supplies of bugs against scavenger birds. And if you provide the right environment for them, they will stay in your yard all summer or winter long.
Bluebirds range across the western United States, east across the Gulf states, and south through western Mexico.
Blue jays are members of the crow family. They are also highly intelligent birds, but they don’t play nice.
They rob other birds of their stored food, eggs, and nestlings. But if you enjoy having bluejays around, you can provide them with conditions that will keep them around all year.
Blue jays are more common across the Atlantic seaboard states of the United States and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. They can also be found on the Great Plains south to Texas. Blue jays have breeding grounds in central Canada and like to winter in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming.
The easiest way to tell bluebirds from blue jays
Blue jays (except for a species that lives in Siberia) have a distinctive crest on their heads.
It’s not hard to identify. You can confirm your observation by paying attention to other characteristics.
Bluebirds have blue head, wing, back, and tail feathers. They have rusty red feathers on their chins, throats, flanks, and chests.
Blue Jays have bright blue wings and tail feathers. They have bluish-purple heads, white faces, chins, and throats, and a black necklace.
Bluebirds are smaller than blue jays. A bluebird is 6.5 to 8 inches (16 to 20 cm) from beak to tail.
For a Blue Jay, lengths range from a little under 10 to almost 12 inches (25 to 30 cm).
Wings and tails
Bluebirds and blue jays both have long, wide wings.
But bluebirds have short, narrow tails while blue jays have long, wide tails.
Bluebirds sing warbling, low-pitched songs with several notes.
Blue jays make whispering sounds, clicks, clucks, whirrs, and whines and sing liquid notes.
Bluebirds fly about 17 to 18 miles per hour (7.5 to 8 meters per second).
Blue jays fly about 25 miles per hour (11 meters per second).
Bluebirds congregate in the fall in flocks of up to 100 birds.
A flock of blue jays in early winter may include as many as 250 birds.
Bluebirds often sit on low perches to scan for insects. They are not aggressive toward other birds.
Blue jays are aggressive like crows and magpies. They may attack other birds.
Bluebirds may come back to your yard every year for as long as 10 years. Blue jays usually live to be about eight.
Now let’s take a closer look at ways to tell bluebirds and blue jays apart.
All bluebirds have stunning blue feathers on their backs. They all have pale or rusty plumage on their underparts.
You can easily identify bluebirds by the patches of brown on their chest and the strips of brown on their tails. Bluebirds have black beaks and brown feathers near the mouth.
Male bluebirds have especially bright blue heads, wings, tails, and backs. They have brownish-red chins, throats, and flanks.
Not all blue jays are blue. Texas Green Jays have blue and black heads with green backs and green and yellow jails.
Most North American blue jays have feathers of blue, white, brown, and black, but there is a Eurasian Jay with pinkish-brown feathers and no crest.
Sometimes you can find bluebirds and blue jays in the same place, but they have different preferences for habitat.
Bluebirds prefer sparse woodland near open fields.
If you live in a rural area or in a smaller town, you are more likely to find them on the edges of woodland. Bluebirds like to nest near hike and bike trails on the edges of golf courses.
Mountain bluebirds may venture up to elevations of 7,000 feet (2,200 meters) in the summer in the Rocky Mountain states and provinces and in British Columbia and Alaska.
Even in the mountains, bluebirds prefer to be just barely within the tree line on the edges of alpine meadows.
Blue jays are a common sight throughout the eastern and central United States. They also range across southern Canada from the Maritimes to Alberta.
Blue jays prefer forests. They can be found in mature trees in cities, suburbs, and parkland.
There are mountain-dwelling blue jays, but at lower elevations and southerly locations in Mexico and Central America.
The limits of the bluebird range are Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas, western Nebraska, western Kansas, and the Dakotas.
There are some blue jays in forests in Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon.
Size and Shape
Bluebirds stand just 6.5 to 8 inches (16 to 20 cm) tall, and they weigh only about an ounce or a little more (30 grams). Their body shape is similar to that of a parakeet.
Their stomachs are plump, but their chests are sleek. They have rounded heads and short legs. They aren’t big enough to stand out on a background of brush or leaves.
Blue jays are up to four times as heavy as bluebirds. Blue jays can weigh 2.5 to 4 ounces (70 to 110 grams).
Their wings span 16 inches (40 cm). Their beaks are big and stout enough to do the drilling. Blue jays just out their chests prominently. This makes them easier to recognize.
Blue jays are crows, so they have “crow’s feet.” The longer feet of blue jays help them grasp larger perches than bluebirds typically use.
Songs and sounds
A bluebird’s low-pitched warbling song consists of several phrases.
Each phrase will feature 1 to 3 short notes. Bluebirds sometimes make harsh, chattering notes between whistles. Their songs only last a few seconds.
Male bluebirds seeking a mate will sing from a high perch to attract a female. Females sing the same song when they see predators in their territory.
Once males are paired with a female, they sing more softly.
Blue jays will sign for up to two minutes at a time. They make soft, whispering songs with chucks, clicks, whines, whirs, liquid notes, and other calls mixed in.
Blue jays are also known to jeer other birds. They imitate hawks to confuse them when they wander into their territory. When blue jays are aggressive, they will sometimes make clicking sounds.
When blue jays lose their eggs or are caught in a trap, they will use their beaks to make hammering sounds on their perches. Bluebirds don’t do this.
Bluebirds are usually solitary birds except during their breeding season.
They form pairs and family groups as they are raising hatchlings and for a short time after the young bluebirds leave their nest. In the fall, you may find as many as 100 bluebirds around a good hunting ground for the insects they eat.
Blue jays usually travel in pairs. They may travel in family flocks for a few weeks after their hatchlings have left the nest.
Jays of all kinds are very protective of their nests. They will dive at any animals they consider to be potential predators, including humans.
Whenever a blue jay makes raucous sounds and lunges forward, an attack with beak and claws is imminent.
Blue jays are more aggressive than bluebirds.
Bluebirds content themselves to forage on the ground for seeds and insects, returning to their perch to look for more food. Blue jays quickly rob bird feeders of their favorite treats.
Attracting Bluebirds and Blue Jays to Your Yard
Would you like to have more practice telling the difference between bluebirds and blue jays?
Both species are easy to host in your yard.
- Bluebirds nest in forks of trees 5 to 20 feet (1.5 to 6 meters) above the ground. They will also take advantage of naturally occurring cavities in trees as shelter for their nests.
- Male and female bluebirds build their nests together. Bluebirds will line their nests with pine needles, twigs, and grass. You can keep them in your yard by providing moss, bark, paper, and string for them to use for their nests.
- If you build nesting boxes for your bluebirds, they will use them as shelter from winter cold and stay in your yard all year round.
- If you have bluebirds in your yard all year round, you will have two or three chances to observe baby bluebirds every year. Bluebirds raise two or three broods every year. Females lay two to eight whitish or light blue eggs at a time. They take 12 to 16 days to hatch.
- Feed blue jays suet, sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts (shelled or unshelled), or bread crumbs.
- Blue jays are attracted to beech, oak, and hickory trees, which provide them nuts as a winter food source.
You can attract both bluebirds and blue jays to your yard if you live in the central United States.
Both bluebirds and blue jays can give you endless hours of enjoyment and add beauty to your home.
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