Blue Jays Building Nests

Blue jay gathering nesting material (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons)

11 April 2021

As loud as blue jays are all year they are very secretive when they nest, so sneaky that it’s hard to find a nest unless you see them build it.

Last week I was lucky to see four pairs of blue jays working on nests in Schenley Park. Both participate in the project though the male does more gathering while the female does more shaping.

Each phase of nest construction uses different materials. You can assess a pair’s progress by noting what they gather.

  • The outer shell is made of strong fresh twigs which they yank from live trees.
  • The middle may include bark, moss, lichen, dry leaves, grasses, mud, bits of paper, cloth, string or plastic.
  • The cup lining is made of tough rootlets and sometimes wet, partially decomposed leaves.

I found a pair in Schenley Park working on the outer shell when I noticed a blue jay vigorously pulling on a long twig until it broke from the tree. He flew up to a crotch in a nearby tree where his lady was waiting to add it to the foundation.

Two blue jays jousted over this valuable mud puddle. One held a muddy clump in his beak while he chased the other away. The second jay persisted.

Valuable nesting material in a puddle, Schenley Park, 9 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Others pulled rootlets from an overturned tree, apparently in the final stage of construction.

Blue jays gather rootlets like these to line their nests (photo by Kate St. John)

Blue jays will travel 1,000 feet to gather nest material and even more for good rootlets, so I wasn’t surprised when I lost track of them when they flew away.

Learn more about blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) nesting in this 11 minute video by Lesley The Bird Nerd. Then watch closely as they gather nesting material. Perhaps you’ll find the nest.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Kate St. John)

7 thoughts on “Blue Jays Building Nests

  1. How high up do the Jays usually put their nests? I’ve seen them gathering but we have some really tall pines as well as some lower, denser yews…

    1. Mickey, the height is quite variable. They nest in trees anywhere from 3 to 100 feet above ground.

  2. Wow! Very cool experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blue jay gathering materials before but now I’m going to be on the lookout.

  3. Once they have eggs or nestlings, I’d love to see how aggressive they are at protecting their nest from any onlookers.

  4. I love blue jays. They are really noisy when there is danger… lurking cats or red tailed hawks get the same loud warning. Then other little birds hide. They’re fun to watch at the bird bath. Big drinkers….water, that is.

  5. We have a pair who built a nest above our porch light. This is the 4th year of a nest has been built there, and I have to wonder if it’s the same pair that returns each year. The nest is within fingertip reach, and is right near our front door, but we always just let them be. The 1st year, the nest was dumped. I’m not sure if it was a predator or it dislodged. I was heartbroken. The 2nd year, the parents abandoned the babies. No explanation as to why. When my husband took the nest down before winter, the remains of the babies were in it. Last year was the first year with success. 4 babies, all fledged, and bobbed around in our yard a week, then learned to perch on low branches. Mom and dad kept nearby to feed them. Sadly, one baby was caught by a predator. Another one, was stuck on its back in a divot in our walkway. It was squawking for help. I used a stick to upright it, and during the process, mama attacked me. Nicked my scalp with her beak. I was just trying to help. Baby was fine once back on it’s feet. They’re back again this year. Mom is currently sitting on eggs. She occasionally leaves the nest for food. Dad sometimes delivers to her. Hoping for a successful brood this year.

  6. How exciting to watch the jays so close, we love. Our feathered friends, our feeder is on the deck, we sometimes just sit and enjoy, and try to identify. We have so many friends with such different personalities. They are such little treasures!

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