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)

5 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.

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