Having strong singing voices, bluebirds and blue jays both have similar shades of blue plumages, which makes it common to mix them up. It is easy to differentiate them if you know what to look for. In a comparison of bluebird vs. blue jay, this guide will teach you exactly how to tell them apart.
Bluebird vs. Blue Jay
North American bluebirds are small thrushes, songbirds that are related to the American Robin. While all bluebird species migrate, they can be attracted by birders in every season. They have insectivorous diets, meaning they can readily eat large numbers of insects, moths, and larvae. This kind of diet makes bluebirds welcome guests because they can provide superior natural pest control.
Also read: How to attract bluebirds to your backyard
Blue jays are spread out in multiple geographical regions. Blue jays are some of the most intelligent birds in the world and have an amusing behavior. They are curious and can demonstrate problem-solving skills as they work out how to get the best food sources and protect their caches from invaders. Because these birds stay in most of their ranges throughout the year, it is easy to enjoy them provided the yard meets their basic needs.
Also read: How to attract blue jays to your backyard
The one common thing that separates these birds visually would be the distinct crests on the heads of blue jays. This can be easily identified by even novice birders. Bluebirds and blue jays belong to different families as jays belong to the Corvidae family, which, apart from jays, have crows and magpies. In the next categories, we will go deeper on how to tell these birds apart.
Songs and Sounds
Eastern bluebirds sing a fairly low-pitched and warbling song that consists of several phases, featuring 1 to 3 short notes. Harsher chattering notes may be interspersed with the whistles. The entire song lasts for 2 seconds.
Unpaired males typically sing this song from a high perch or sometimes while they fly, as they attempt to attract a mate. Females sometimes sing this song when they see predators in their territory. Paired males occasionally sing softer songs during the nesting season.
The vocalization of blue jays most often consider a song in a whispering tone, a soft and quiet conglomeration of clicks, chucks, whirrs, whines, liquid notes, and some elements of other calls. Blue jays tend to extend their singing to around 2 minutes.
Blue jays make a large variety of calls. They often make loud jeers, but they also make clear whistled notes and gurgling sounds. They love to mimic hawks, and they will occasionally snap their beaks in intense aggressive displays.
Blue jay calls:
When comparing the songs and sounds of these birds, bluebirds are conservative in delivery, whereas blue jays are more loud and aggressive. When caught in a trap or eggs are taken from their nests, jays may hammer their beaks loudly on perches. Bluebirds won’t do this.
Size and Shape
The standard height of bluebirds ranges from 6.5 to 8 inches, and their typical weight has a small range between 1 and 1.1 ounces. The body shape of a bluebird can be compared to that of a parakeet, having a sleek chest that compliments the plump look of its stomach. Bluebirds have big rounded heads but have short tails and legs. Their beaks are fairly short and straight, not having enough thickness to be prominent enough in appearance.
What does a blue jay look like? The standard height is 11 inches, and the typical weight ranges from 2.5 to 4 ounces. They have a wingspan of 16 inches. Male and female blue jays both have thick and stout beaks that are used for drilling. The body shape of a blue jay has some distinctions as it will have a thick neck and a broad chest that sticks out.
You can better tell apart bluebirds and blue jays by mainly looking at their feet. Being Corvidae birds, blue jays have longer feet and tails than thrush birds. All blue jays will be slightly taller in height and heavier in weight than bluebirds. Blue jay beaks are clearly thicker than bluebird beaks.
Color patterns and variations
All bluebird species have stunning plumage with rich blue backs and underparts that are pale or rusty. Bluebirds can easily be spotted by the small patches of brown that are on their chests, as well as the small strips of brown on their tails. Eastern bluebirds have black beaks with brown along with the mouth. Male eastern bluebirds have a bright blue head, wings, back and tail with a rusty red chin, throat, chest, and flanks.
Blue, green, white, brown, and black colors are the most common to see on blue jays. Jays commonly found in North America have feather patterns of blue with black stripes. The Steller’s jay, also known as the Western Blue Jay, looks very unique as it has a dark blue and black plumage and head crest. Texas Green Jays have blue and black heads without a distinct crest, green backs, and green and yellow tails.
Unless you spot a Western Blue Jay or a Eurasian Jay, a faded pinkish-brown variant with no crest, you should immediately tell the differences in color between bluebirds and blue jays. The main factors include the crests on jays and the appearance of brown or rusty red on the chests of bluebirds.
Bluebirds are relatively solitary birds but are regularly found in pairs or in small family groups, particularly at the end of the breeding season, when the young birds start maturing and still look to their parents for guidance. In the time period from late summer to early fall, flocks of up to 30 or more mountain bluebirds may form. Eastern bluebirds often perch in low trees or shrubs while scanning for insects with their keen eyesight.
Blue jays are frequently found in pairs or family flocks and they are often very protective of their nests, even to the point of diving at intruders, including humans. When they raise their head crests very prominently, which are typically accompanied by raucous calls or even forward lunges, this is a clear indication of a blue jay threatening to attack. They are inquisitive and intelligent birds that hide food for later feeding, such as nuts and seeds.
Comparing these two birds, the blue jays have greater potential to be bullies than bluebirds. Blue jays may quickly rob feeders of select treats. Bluebirds concern themselves more with foraging on the ground for insects and seeds, returning to designated perches many times to catch new morsel.
Eastern bluebirds are easily found in open fields and sparse woodland areas, especially along woodland edges. In suburban areas, Eastern bluebirds are often found near open trails or golf courses. Mountain bluebirds are generally found at elevations greater than 7,000 feet during the summer months in mountainous areas of western North America, and most notably in Alaska. They also prefer sparse woodland edges and open areas such as alpine meadows and mountain prairies.
Blue jays are commonly seen throughout the eastern and central United States and southern Canada from the Atlantic coast to eastern Texas and the Rocky Mountains. The blue jay habitat is highly adaptable to different environments and can be found in various types of forests. They can also be found in cities, parks, and suburban areas where mature trees are present. Western blue jays can be found in lower mountain elevations throughout western North America, including mountainous regions of Mexico and Central America.
Bluebirds and blue jays share territories, but they differ in some locations. You can find bluebirds in western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, North and South Dakota, western Nebraska, western Kansas. Western blue jays are more prominent in states like Utah, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
Field Identification Tips
- Bluebirds nest in cavities that will be lined with grass, pine needles, small twigs, and similar nesting material.
- Eastern bluebirds will raise 2 to 3 broods annually, having 2 to 8 light blue or whitish eggs per brood. Bluebird incubation periods are 12 to 16 days.
- Eastern bluebirds can make nesting boxes their homes, which are often placed in open areas.
- Nesting boxes should be left up throughout the year as bluebirds will use them in the winter for shelter during storms or the blustery cold.
- Bluebirds can also be attracted by offering mealworms and suet in-ground and platform feeders.
- Blue jays nest in branch forks of trees usually 5 to 20 feet above the ground.
- Female blue jays will work with the males to build a cup-shaped nest using sticks, bark, moss, grass, and artificial materials like paper or string.
- Incubation periods for blue jay fledglings last for 16 to 18 days, having 3 to 7 pale green-blue, darkly spotted eggs.
- Blue jays will visit yards and gardens that feature suet, sunflower seeds, whole or shelled peanuts, corn, and bread crumbs.
- Planting oak, beech, or hickory trees will also help provide a source of food for blue jays because these trees develop nuts.
There are key differences between bluebirds and blue jays. Birds that look like blue jays, such as bluebirds, are known by their low-pitched and warbling songs. You will see a blue jay flying when you notice one aggressively diving at other birds. Most blue jays have head crests, while bluebirds have smaller beaks and tails.