Inside: Blue jays and bluebirds are both colored blue – but in what ways are they different? And, in what other ways are they similar? This article provides 10 key differentiators so you’ll be able to tell them apart from here on out.
Birdwatching provides many simple joys and health benefits, like improved mental health and lower blood pressure, and reduced stress. When paired with deeper knowledge about the birds around us, birdwatching becomes even more rewarding.
One of the challenges of bird watching is the many species you can encounter and how to differentiate them. For example, bluebird vs blue jay. How are bluebirds and blue jays similar?
Both blue-hued birds live throughout large swathes of the United States. Backyard birders can easily spot both species, as bluebirds and blue jays frequent feeders offering nuts, seeds, mealworms, and suet.
Although they appear similar there are a ton of differences between the bluebird and blue jay. In this article, we will detail the top 10 key differences between bluebirds and blue jays, including:
- Species Variety
- Habitat and Migration Patterns
- Bird Song
- Food and Attracting Birds
- Gender Roles
- Life Span
10 Ways Bluebirds and Blue Jays are Different
#1 Species Variety
To get started, first, we must examine the different varieties of birds within the bluebird and blue jay species. While the blue jay defines one bird, there are a few different kinds of bluebirds. All bluebirds are a consistent size but differ in their color and habitat location.
As the name suggests, Eastern bluebirds stick to the eastern United States, like Connecticut, New York and even Maine in the summer. Eastern bluebirds migrate farther south, wintering in Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas.
Like many birds, females and males appear differently, with males featuring more vibrant plumage for mating purposes. A male Eastern bluebird displays a bright blue head and back, fading into a rusty-looking, orange chest. A female bluebird’s colors are similar but with a more diluted blue and orange color.
Western bluebirds look very similar to Eastern bluebirds, but the Western’s head gives a big tip-off to its variety. A Western bluebird features a bright blue cap that covers the entire head and chin of the bird, with the orange underbelly starting strictly at the neck. Most Western bluebirds feature a stark line where the blue head cap ends and the orange neck and belly begins.
Of course, another major clarification is the location of the Western bluebird habitat. This bird lives year-round in California, New Mexico, and Arizona and migrates to Nevada and Utah. The Western bluebird mates in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon.
The Mountain bluebird nestles in-between its coastal cousins, living among the Rocky Mountain range stretching from Canada to Mexico. This type of bluebird migrates widely, with a natural habitat stretching from one end of North America to the other.
Mountain bluebirds notably feature no orange color at all. This variety fully embodies the name bluebird, featuring a gray-blue color all over.
Only one species holds the official title of blue jay. However, several different types of jay exist throughout the United States. Scrub Jay, Pinyon Jay, Steller’s Jay, and Green Jay contain similarities to the blue jay in size, head crest, and color. However, they are not considered blue jays, unlike the divisions that exist for bluebirds.
Bird classification works to group similar birds for ease in identification and research. Each species fits into several different groups, including kingdom, order, and species. Related characteristics, like the ability to swim, preferred diet, and bird song work to categorize similar birds.
Blue jays count as part of the Corvidae family, along with ravens, crows, and magpies. These medium-sized backyard birds communicate with loud birdsong and are surprisingly friendly to humans. Both males and female blue jays are the same size and color.
Bluebirds belong to the Turdidae family, a large family of small songbirds. Other members of the Turdidae category include robins, thrushes, and blackbirds.
These birds are related by their small, plump bodies, sweet bird song, and sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism means male and female bluebirds look different, with the males often appearing more vibrant and the females a more drab color.
#3 Habitat and Migration Patterns
As discussed above, the three different kinds of bluebirds live relative to where their name implies, either on the east or west coast states or around the Rocky Mountain range.
Bluebirds breed in the cool north and winter further south, depending on the geographic region of their species. For example, the Mountain bluebird migrates extensively. This small bird can travel between the far reaches of Alaska in the spring and summer to the warmth of central Mexico in the winter.
Bluebirds nest in semi-open areas like farms and ranches, golf courses, and prairies. Bluebirds do not build their own nests but take advantage of hollow cavities in trees or bird houses for habitat. Construct a bluebird box to provide helpful shelter for these delicate birds.
Blue jays, however, desire forests and tall trees for habitat and nest-building. The type of tree doesn’t matter, as blue jays can be found within pine, oak, or spruce forests. Blue jays notably do not migrate much and stay close to friendly surroundings. Urban blue jays return to the same feeders and backyards year after year.
Unlike bluebirds, blue jays nest high in the air. A blue jay nest may reach between nine to 30 feet off the ground, tucked in the fork of a tree. Like bluebirds, birdwatchers can assist blue jays’ nesting behavior. Provide a simple platform at least eight inches on all sides, fitted high in a mature tree.
#4 Coloring of a Bluebird vs. a Blue Jay
The appearance of a bluebird vs a blue jay presents the largest difference between these two species. While both contain the color blue, the similarities end there.
Two out of the three species of bluebird combine bright blue and rust orange hues across the bird’s head, neck, chest, and back. Males feature more vibrant tones while females wear duller plumage. A Mountain bluebird features all-over blue feathers, with more gray tones than the female bluebird.
Both male and female blue jays display the same feather colors, a distinct combination of blue, white, and black. Blue jays present a white face with black accents around the beak and eyes, and a black necklace ringing the base of its head. Blue feathers dominate this bird, with white and black accents on the wings.
A distinctive crest raises and lowers a crown of head feathers. This bristling peak stands on end when the bird is excited or aggressive. When threatened, the crest fluffs out like a frightened cat’s tail. A resting blue jay’s crest lies flat when peacefully eating at your birdfeeder. This mesmerizing crest represents a signature feature of the blue jay.
Like color, the size differences between a bluebird and blue jay provide one of the most significant differences between the bluebird and blue jay. A bluebird measures between six and eight inches long, with short, flat tail feathers. This bird can be compared to the size of a robin or sparrow.
Blue jays measure slightly larger than a bluebird, at between nine inches to one foot long. A blue jay features long, wide tail feathers. These larger birds are a similar size to woodpeckers or crows.
#6 Bird Song
Another rewarding way to differentiate between bluebirds and blue jays is by their songs. Identifying bird song may present ways to reduce stress and increase attention span. These two birds present opposite ways of communicating.
Blue jays offer a harsh, screeching sound as a defining characteristic. Because blue jays are aggressive creatures, this signature song warns of predators and intimidates smaller birds.
If you’re wondering Is a jaybird the same as a blue jay? The answer is yes. This jeering sound is where the “jay” comes from, as blue jays can mimic other birds, cats, or ringing phones. When mating, a soft whistle or gentle warble replaces the more aggressive tone.
As we learned earlier, bluebirds are classified as songbirds. Their pleasant tone sounds low-pitched and pleasant. Several distinct notes can be heard through a bluebird’s warbling birdsong.
#7 Food and Attracting Birds
Blue jays eat nuts, corn, fruits, and some insects. Because of their aggressive nature, blue jays even feast on eggs in other birds’ nests. The strong, large, pointy beak on the blue jay helps this bird effectively crack into hazelnuts, acorns, corn kernels, and other hard-shelled food sources. Place blue jay food on the ground or in a platform feeder to attract blue jays.
In contrast, bluebirds feast mostly on insects, like crickets and beetles. Many times, these birds are welcomed by farmers and ranchers for their ability to eat pesty insects.
Bluebirds’ beaks are much smaller and cannot crack into seeds and nuts like a blue jay can. Add mealworms, fruits, sunflower seeds, or suet to your hanging backyard feeder to provide a safe space to attract the tiny, passive bluebird.
#8 Gender Roles
The sexual dimorphism of bluebirds results in strict gender roles between male and female bluebirds of all species. Male bluebirds are prized for their mating rituals and beauty. Females take responsibility for locating habitat and all child-rearing duties.
However, blue jays display sexual monomorphism or no fast, visual distinction between males and females of the species. In addition to their appearance, all blue jays divide activities like finding shelter and foraging for food equally between males and females. A family of blue jays stays together as a unit much longer than bluebirds.
One of the essential differences between the bluebird and blue jay is their behavior. It is far more likely to see or hear a blue jay without much effort, while a bluebird requires more careful observation and a wide berth.
A blue jay exhibits aggressive behavior toward other birds and humans, if necessary. A blue jay will protect its nest from humans and can bully other smaller birds. As mentioned above, part of the blue jay’s diet is made of eating the freshly-laid eggs of other birds.
While blue jays can express aggression, they also display friendliness, intelligence, and cunning. Like crows who famously communicate, mimic, and use tools, blue jays offer similar ways for humans to appreciate and interact with these wild birds.
Bluebirds represent a passive, timid species. Unlike blue jays, blue birds do not challenge other species or humans, and are far more elusive. These birds are natural followers, instead of leaders, and live in smaller, more intimate flocks than blue jays.
Bluebirds are best observed from far away and are far less friendly and adaptable than blue jays. This stark contrast means bluebirds and blue jays do not get along.
#10 Life Span
Like in many other species, the smaller version boasts a longer life span. Even though bluebirds are much more passive than blue jays and migrate widely, these tiny birds live between six to 10 years. Bluebirds bounced back from a threatened state in the mid-20th century to achieve a thriving population today.
Blue jays live slightly shorter lives, between six to eight years. Because blue jays thrive in human environments, these birds face threats from outdoor cats, buildings, airplanes, pesticides, and other poisons. Blue jays are not considered a threatened species.
While both present beautiful blue plumage, many significant contrasts exist between blue jays and bluebirds.
The aggressive, screeching blue jay stays in the east coast or Midwest United States. Both genders of blue jay look the same, with a signature head crest and blue feathers with white and black accents.
This sexual monomorphism means both genders contribute to child-rearing. Attract blue jays with hard seeds or nuts which they can crack with their large, strong beaks.
Seek out the gentle, passive bluebird to enjoy pleasant bird song and it’s adorable, plump body. Female bluebirds display duller plumage than the bright blue and orange males. Its favorite foods include insects, suet, and sunflower seeds in a hanging bird feeder.
Learning the differences between bluebirds and blue jays is a delightful first step to the rewarding hobby of birdwatching. These two birds provide a wonderful introduction to the fascinating contrasts in habitat, behavior, food source, and bird song of the many birds that color our world.