I Can Sound Pretty

Blue jay in winter (photo by Cris Hamilton)

As the days get longer the birds have started to sing again.  Jessica Manack reminded me that one of those songs is quite a surprise.

The blue jay’s typical call is unmistakeable and brash. We usually see him do it because he draws attention to himself when he says “Jay.”

He can also make a wide variety of other sounds, some of which are really odd: Try this link at the Macaulay Library.

But during the courtship season he says KWEE-de-lee, a sound so melodic you think it couldn’t be made by a jay.

When you hear this call, look for the bird and you’ll find him doing rapid deep knee bends, raising and lowering his entire body as he calls.

“I can sound pretty,” says the blue jay.  “I just don’t want you to notice.”

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

5 thoughts on “I Can Sound Pretty

  1. When I was a child, I was always on a mission to “rescue” birds. Most of the time, my version of assistance was unwarranted and misguided, but my intentions were good, and sometimes I really did remove a baby bird from the path of a housecat, even if it was only temporarily. I did this once for a fledgling blue jay. I will never forget being mystified by its brilliant plumage as it struggled in my hands. I will also never forget its watchful parent, hovering above me as I sat it at the base of a wild cherry tree. Instead of scolding, it was making lovely warbling calls. Whether it was reassuring its young, or thanking me (as I thought at the time), I think of those sounds every time I see a blue jay!

  2. Last spring I was able to identify the rattle call of the Blue Jay. It is really cool, unlike any other bird sound I’ve heard so far. It is more mechanical and even toned than the rattle call of the Belted Kingfisher. I will listen for it again this spring. It usually occurs when the jays are moving around in groups. Stokes refers to early courtship behavior in which males move around in groups following a female. This is when I have heard the rattle call.

  3. Carolyn, I rescued a baby Blue Jay and the mama didn’t appreciate it…smacked me in the back of the head and left a scab on my scalp…at least the stray cats or hawk didn’t get it…love when you get about a dozen of these guys and they really start singing and bobbing up and down….Dana used to have a musical toy that I called big mouths and you hit a key and the mouth opened and made a musical sound…that’s what they reminded me of from years ago…also very, very good hawk voices…caught me more than once on that…

  4. Absolutely Marcy, I have never heard a better hawk mimic. I don’t think I have ever learned exactly why they imitate hawks; might it be to scare song birds away from food sources they can then take advantage of?

  5. I agree that Blue Jays are stunning/gorgeous and also very entertaining, having been fooled on a few outings with Todd Bird Club at Yellow Creek S.P. into looking for a Red-shoulder Hawk. I disliked them briefly after witnessing one quietly and stealthily steal eggs out of a Red-eyed Vireo nest while the frantic parents shrieked and tried to ward it off. The jay enjoyed quite a breakfast that morning while we were collecting data for nests, etc. for the Atlas a few years ago.

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