Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE BLUE JAY.
GARRULUS CRISTATUS, Linn.
PLATE CCXXXI.--MALE AND FEMALES.
Reader, look at the plate in which are represented three individuals of
this beautiful species,--rogues though they be, and thieves, as I would call
them, were it fit for me to pass judgment on their actions. See how each is
enjoying the fruits of his knavery, sucking the egg which he has pilfered from
the nest of some innocent Dove or harmless Partridge! Who could imagine that a
form so graceful, arrayed by nature in a garb so resplendent, should harbour so
much mischief;--that selfishness, duplicity, and malice should form the moral
accompaniments of so much physical perfection! Yet so it is, and how like
beings of a much higher order, are these gay deceivers! Aye, I could write you
a whole chapter on this subject, were not my task of a different nature.
The Blue Jay is one of those birds that are found capable of subsisting in
cold as well as in warm climates. It occurs as far north as the Canadas, where
it makes occasional attacks upon the corn cribs of the farmers, and it is found
in the most southern portions of the United States, where it abounds during the
winter. Every where it manifests the same mischievous disposition. It imitates
the cry of the Sparrow Hawk so perfectly, that the little birds in the
neighbourhood hurry into the thick coverts, to avoid what they believe to be the
attack of that marauder. It robs every nest it can find, sucks the eggs like
the Crow, or tears to pieces and devours the young birds. A friend once wounded
a Grouse (Tetrao umbellus), and marked the direction which it followed, but had
not proceeded two hundred yards in pursuit, when he heard something fluttering
in the bushes, and found his bird belaboured by two Blue Jays, who were picking
out its eyes. The same person once put a Flying Squirrel into the cage of one
of these birds, merely to preserve it for one night; but on looking into the
cage about eleven o'clock next day, he found the animal partly eaten. A Blue
Jay at Charleston destroyed all the birds of an aviary. One after another had
been killed, and the rats were supposed to have been the culprits, but no
crevice could be seen large enough to admit one. Then the mice were accused,
and war was waged against them, but still the birds continued to be killed;
first the smaller, then the larger, until at length the Keywest Pigeons; when
it was discovered that a Jay which had been raised in the aviary was the
depredator. He was taken out, and placed in a cage, with a quantity of corn,
flour and several small birds which he had just killed. The birds he soon
devoured, but the flour he would not condescend to eat, and refusing every other
kind of food soon died. In the north, it is fond of ripe chestnuts, and in
visiting the trees is sure to select the choicest. When these fail, it attacks
the beech nuts, acorns, pears, apples, and green corn.
While at Louisville, in Kentucky, in the winter of 1830, I purchased
twenty-five of these birds, at the rate of 61 cents each, which I shipped to New
Orleans, and afterwards to Liverpool, with the view of turning them out in the
English woods. They were caught in common traps, baited with maize, and were
brought to me one after another as soon as secured. In Placing them in the
large cage which I had ordered for the purpose of sending them abroad, I was
surprised to see how cowardly each newly caught bird was when introduced to his
brethren, who, on being in the cage a day or two, were as gay and frolicsome as
if at liberty in the woods. The new comer, on the contrary, would run into a
corner, place his head almost in a perpendicular position, and remain silent and
sulky, with an appearance of stupidity quite foreign to his nature. He would
suffer all the rest to walk over him and trample him down, without ever changing
his position. If corn or fruit was presented to him, or even placed close to
his bill, he would not so much as look at it. If touched with the hand, he
would cower, lie down on his side, and remain motionless. The next day,
however, things were altered: he was again a Jay, taking up corn, placing it
between his feet, hammering it with his bill, splitting the grain, picking out
the kernel, and dropping the divided husks. When the cage was filled, it was
amusing to listen to their hammering; all mounted on their perch side by side,
each pecking at a grain of maize, like so many blacksmiths paid by the piece.
They drank a great deal, eat broken pacan nuts, grapes, dried fruits of all
sorts, and especially fresh beef, of which they were extremely fond, roosted
very peaceably close together, and were very pleasing pets. Now and then one
would utter a cry of alarm, when instantly all would leap and fly about as if
greatly concerned, making as much ado as if their most inveterate enemy had been
in the midst of them. They bore the passage to Europe pretty well, and most of
them reached Liverpool in good health; but a few days after their arrival, a
disease occasioned by insects adhering to every part of their body, made such
progress that some died every day. Many remedies were tried in vain, and only
one individual reached London. The insects had so multiplied on it, that I
immersed it in an infusion of tobacco, which, however, killed it in a few hours.
On advancing north, I observed that as soon as the Canada Jay made its
appearance, the Blue Jay became more and more rare; not an individual did any of
our party observe in Newfoundland or Labrador, during our stay there. On
landing a few miles from Pictou, on the 22nd of August, 1833, after an absence
of several months from the United States, the voice of a Blue Jay sounded
melodious to me, and the sight of a Humming-bird quite filled my heart with
These Jays are plentiful in all parts of the United States. In Louisiana,
they are so abundant as to prove a nuisance to the farmers, picking the newly
planted corn, the peas, and the sweet potatoes, attacking every fruit tree, and
even destroying the eggs of pigeons and domestic fowls. The planters are in the
habit of occasionally soaking some corn in a solution of arsenic, and scattering
the seeds over the ground, in consequence of which many Jays are found dead
about the fields and gardens.
The Blue Jay is extremely expert in discovering a fox, a racoon, or any
other quadruped hostile to birds, and will follow it, emitting a loud noise, as
if desirous of bringing every Jay or Crow to its assistance. It acts in the
same manner towards Owls, and even on some occasions towards Hawks.
This species breeds in all parts of the United States, from Louisiana to
Maine, and from the Upper Missouri to the coast of the Atlantic. In South
Carolina it seems to prefer for this purpose the live oak trees. In the lower
parts of the Floridas it gives place in a great measure to the Florida Jay; nor
did I meet with a single individual in the Keys of that peninsula. In
Louisiana, it breeds near the planter's house, in the upper parts of the trees
growing in the avenues, or even in the yards, and generally at a greater height
than in the Middle States, where it is comparatively shy. It sometimes takes
possession of the old or abandoned nest of a Crow or Cuckoo. In the Southern
States, from Louisiana to Maryland, it breeds twice every year; but to the
eastward of the latter State seldom more than once. Although it occurs in all
places from the sea-shore to the mountainous districts, it seems more abundant
in the latter. The nest is composed of twigs and other coarse materials, lined
with fibrous roots. The eggs are four or five, of a dull olive colour, spotted
The Blue Jay is truly omnivorous, feeding indiscriminately on all sorts of
flesh, seeds, and insects. He is more tyrannical than brave, and, like most
boasters, domineers over the feeble, dreads the strong, and flies even from his
equals. In many cases in fact, he is a downright coward. The Cardinal Grosbeak
will challenge him, and beat him off the ground. The Red Thrush, the
Mocking-bird, and many others, although inferior in strength, never allow him to
approach their nest with impunity; and the Jay, to be even with them, creeps
silently to it in their absence, and devours their eggs and young whenever he
finds an opportunity. I have seen one go its round from one nest to another
every day, and suck the newly laid eggs of the different birds in the
neighbourhood, with as much regularity and composure as a physician would call
on his patients. I have also witnessed the sad disappointment it experienced,
when, on returning to its own home, it found its mate in the jaws of a snake,
the nest upset, and the eggs all gone. I have thought more than once on such
occasions that, like all great culprits, when brought to a sense of their
enormities, it evinced a strong feeling of remorse. While at Charleston, in
November 1833, Dr. WILSON of that city told me that on opening a division of his
aviary, a Mocking-bird that he had kept for three years, flew at another and
killed it, after which it destroyed several Blue Jays, which he had been keeping
for me some months in an adjoining compartment.
The Blue Jay seeks for its food with great diligence at all times, but more
especially during the period of its migration. At such a time, wherever there
are chinquapins, wild chestnuts, acorns, or grapes, flocks will be seen to
alight on the topmost branches of these trees, disperse, and engage with great
vigour in detaching the fruit. Those that fall are picked up from the ground,
and carried into a chink in the bark, the splinters of a fence rail, or firmly
held under foot on a branch, and hammered with the bill until the kernel be
As if for the purpose of gleaning the country in this manner, the Blue Jay
migrates from one part to another during the day only. A person travelling or
hunting by night, may now and then disturb the repose of a Jay, which in its
terror sounds an alarm that is instantly responded to by all its surrounding
travelling companions, and their multiplied cries make the woods resound far and
near. While migrating, they seldom fly to any great distance at a time without
alighting, for like true rangers they ransack and minutely inspect every portion
of the woods, the fields, the orchards, and even the gardens of the farmers and
planters. Always exceedingly garrulous, they may easily be followed to any
distance, and the more they are chased the more noisy do they become, unless a
Hawk happen to pass suddenly near them, when they are instantly struck dumb,
and, as if ever conscious of deserving punishment, either remain motionless for
awhile, or sneak off silently into the closest thickets, where they remain
concealed as long as their dangerous enemy is near.
During the winter months they collect in large numbers about the
plantations of the Southern States, approach the houses and barns, attend the
feeding of the poultry, as well as of the cattle and horses in their separate
pens, in company with the Cardinal Grosbeak, the Towhe Bunting, the Cow Bunting,
the Starlings and Grakles, pick up every grain of loose corn they can find,
search amid the droppings of horses along the roads, and enter the corn cribs,
where many are caught by the cat and the sons of the farmer. Their movements on
the wing are exceedingly graceful, and as they pass from one tree to another,
their expanded wings and tail, exhibiting all the beauty of their graceful form
and lovely tints, never fail to delight the observer.
Although this species proceeds up the Missouri river to the eastern
declivities of the Rocky Mountains, it is not found on the Columbia. Dr.
RICHARDSON says that it "visits the Fur Countries, in summer, up to the 56th
parallel, but seldom approaches the shores of Hudson's Bay." He is, however,
mistaken when he says that "it frequents the Southern States only in winter;"
for it is found there at all seasons, and breeds in every district of them, as
well as in the Texas, where I found it, although it was rare. The eggs measure
an inch and half an eighth in length, and seven-eighths in breadth.
BLUE JAY, Corvus cristatus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 2.
CORVUS CRISTATUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 58.
GARRULUS CRISTATUS, Blue Jay, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 293.
BLUE JAY, Corvus cristatus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 11; vol. v.p. 475.
Feathers of the head elongated, oblong; tail much rounded. Upper parts
light purplish-blue; wings and tail ultramarine, secondaries, their coverts, and
tail-feathers barred with black, and tipped with white; a narrow band margining
the forehead, loral space, and a band round the neck, black; throat and cheeks
bluish-white; lower parts greyish-white, tinged with brown.
Male, 12, 14.
Breeds from Texas eastward and northward to the Fur Countries, and as far
as the bases of the Rocky Mountains. Abundant. Resident in the Middle,
Interior, and Southern States.
The roof of the mouth is rather flat, anteriorly with three ridges; the
lower mandible moderately concave with a median ridge; posterior aperture of
nares linear, 8 twelfths long, with the edges papillate; width of mouth 7 1/2
twelfths. The tongue is 9 1/2 twelfths long, emarginate and papillate at the
base, flat above, horny toward the end, with the tip slit and lacerated. The
oesophagus, [a b c], 3 1/4 inches long,
6 twelfths wide at the commencement, but
suddenly tapering to 3 twelfths. The lobes of the liver are very unequal, the
right being 1 inch 2 twelfths in length, the other 9 twelfths. The stomach, [c
d e], is very large, of a broadly elliptical, compressed form, 1 inch in length,
10 twelfths in breadth; its lateral muscles of considerable thickness, the left
being 4 twelfths; the tendons large; the epithelium very dense, tough, rugous,
of a dark brown colour. It is filled with remains of insects and mineral
substances. The intestine, [e f g h i], is 16 1/2 inches long, from 4 twelfths
to 2 1/2 twelfths in width; the coeca, [h], 3 twelfths long, 1/2 twelfth wide,
and 1 1/4 inches distant from the extremity; the cloaca, [i], ovate, 8 twelfths
The trachea is 2 inches 5 twelfths long, considerably flattened toward the
lower part; its rings 56 in number, rather broad, and well ossified, with two
additional dimidiate rings; the bronchi of moderate size, with 12 half rings.
The lateral muscles are rather slender; there are four pairs of inferior
BIGNONIA RADICANS. Pursh, Flor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 420.