Jay Identification: Learn About The Types of Jays

September 21, 2021

As a kid, you might recount a time where you saw a blue bird and called it a “Blue Jay”. However, not every blue bird is a “Blue Jay'' or even a jay. So, what makes a jay and how many of them are blue? While not all jays are blue, they are pretty easy to spot as they belong to the family Corvida. I like to think of Jays as medium-sized crows with attitude. There is sometimes confusion between Magpies and Jays, but rule of thumb is that Jays have shorter tails and Magpies have longer tails.

Are you interested in discovering the birds in your backyard? BirdBot offers a few tips on how to identify and learn about those species in your community!

Species of Jays

Jays are often associated with being colorful and noisy birds because they can be quite beautiful and loud. However, only 10 species of jays can be found in North America. While small in diversity they are quite versatile. A handful of these jays can be found in forests across the United States and Canada. While some species such as the Island Scrub Jay can be found off the coasts of California. You can even find jays like the Mexican Jay or Green Jay in the southernmost and tropical areas of North America.

Steller’s Jay

You can find Steller's Jay in the northern parts of the United States. It is commonly found in residential areas with conifer forests and close to mountains. This bird species can often be seen year round to those in the pacific northwest and Canada. The Steller’s Jay is known for its distinct black crest and white eye markings. If you find a Steller’s Jay without white markings, don’t be alarmed as some subspecies will have blue markings or no markings at all. 

The Steller’s Jay is quite capable of eating various berries and insects, but isn’t shy of a free meal. You can often spot them at bird feeders, especially those with suit cakes. 

When you are trying to attract Steller’s Jays, we suggest sunflower seeds and suit cakes with a peanut butter base. This will not only attract the woodpeckers, but the jays as well. If you are uncertain you’re seeing a Steller’s Jays, just see if it raises their crest, giving the jay a mohawk look. Sometimes you can lay some seed on top of your cakes for a little more incentive. You can see our Steller’s Jay set up here on TikTok. Our set up is pretty simple and shows that it doesn’t take much to interest these jays. 

Steller's Jay on mossy log

Related: How To Start Birding [Beginner's Guide & Tips]

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

The Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay can be found in the southwestern states like Utah, Colorado, and Texas. Although this jay is not found in California because California has its own California Scrub-Jay. The Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay can be identified by it’s grey breast and belly, with a long tail and narrow white eyebrows. They eat insects, fruits and seeds just like all the other jays. However, the Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay is thought to play a major role in Ecosystems Services as a distributor of oak and pine tree seeds.

These birds are known to bury seeds to eat later, but often forget about the seeds. So don’t be confused if you see this scrub-jay run off with a sunflower seed before eating it, they might just be saving it for later. Woodhouse Scrub-Jays can often be seen in pairs as they form bonds between pairs for years at a time. They have also been known to form tight family circles. This is in order to better raise their young and help train the brothers and sisters of the nest. While I personally haven’t seen these jays at my feeder, it would be safe to assume they might show up in a group.


Woodhouse Scrub-Jay on branch

Blue Jay

One of the most iconic jays, the Blue Jay is known to be highly intelligent and capable of mimicking other bird noises. You can see these birds at feeders sometimes harassing other birds or making noises to scare them away. The Blue Jay is also known to hide seeds, and while the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay forgets where they stored their seeds. Blue Jays can remember and have active a couple thousand seed stashes at once. Not only are they bullies at the bird feeder. Blue Jays are notorious for eating eggs from other nests. 

The Blue Jay features a distinctive blue white pattern, with black tail bands, and a black neckline. This bird is often seen on the east coast but is known to travel as far east as Idaho. There are also a couple of populations dispersed around Washington and western Canada, but are not as common. They tend to favor shrubby forests and like to nest in oak or beech trees. You can also find them in city parks as they can thrive in more complex urban areas. 


Blue Jay on metal railing

Related: How Do Birds Provide Ecosystems Services?

Canada Jay

You can find the Canada Jay throughout the mountain areas of Canada, Washington and down through the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico. The Canada Jay is an average sized grey bird with a lighter head and black eyes. They have dark grey wing feathers and aren’t shy of stealing food or flying into the hands of humans for a treat. These birds have the nickname Camp Robbers and are often the aid of people becoming disney princesses. If you are high in the mountains (8,500 ft+) and want to have a little fun. Put some seeds in your hand, do a couple whistles and stick your hand out. Maybe a Canada Jay will come visit you.

While in the US these birds are known as Canada Jays. These birds can also be called Grey Jay or Whiskey Jacks. Now it is common for jays to store food for later, but Canada Jays don’t bury their seeds. These birds use sap to form a sticky ball and attach seeds to the mass. Then they store the ball away for later when they need it. You can find these sappy food balls on tree limbs or sometimes hidden behind the bark of a pine or fir tree. 

 


Canada Jay on pine tree branch

Pinyon Jay

This interesting looking greyish blue bird is becoming more and more rare. The Pinyon Jay has been on the decline for the past couple decades. The Pinyon Jay feeds mostly on the pinyon pine seeds for which it was given its name. It also plays a critical role in the distribution of the pinyon pine and helps maintain our forests in the Great Basin states like Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

If you are able to find these birds, you are likely to find a handful. As these birds nest in colonies and often travel in groups. You are unlikely to find their nests however as they can easily be 10 to 20 feet off the ground in a juniper or oak tree. They can also nest in higher forms of pine trees if necessary. While not attending to a nest they forage on the ground and can catch insects.

Pinyon Jay on branch

Related: How To Educate and Promote Environmental Awareness in 2021

With these tips, you can finally identify the five most common jays in North America. However, there are even variations within particular sub-species. No matter what, take some time and get out to see those local jays in your area. Once you identify one species, it will be easier to distinguish other jays from each other. 

Do you love seeing those birds in the forests or in your backyard? You can discover more about these distinctive species with help from BirdBot!