Blue jays are easily recognizable. Their vibrant blue plumage, trimmed in black and speckled with white, is unlike any other bird – even within the corvid family. Though picking out a blue jay amongst other birds may be simple, differentiating between a male and female blue jay is a different task entirely.
Female blue jays have the same plumage as the males, making it difficult to tell the two apart at first glance. Fortunately, females exhibit different nesting, feeding, and courtship behaviors than their male counterparts.
Familiarity with female versus male blue jay behavior can help you tell the two apart. We will discuss these behavioral differences and more in the following guide to the female blue jay.
How can you tell if a blue jay is male or female?
Male and female blue jays are not sexually dimorphic, meaning there are no differences in their plumage. Males tend to be larger than females, but the difference is minuscule, making it difficult to differentiate the two strictly based on size.
The best way to tell if a blue jay is a male or female is through observing their behavior. Females exhibit different behaviors from males, particularly during the breeding season.
What does a female blue jay look like?
A female blue jay has a white face, chin, and throat bordered by black that extends to the chest. Her face also has a thin black eye stripe and black across the bridge of her thick, black bill. The female’s head, crest, and back are a deep blue-gray, while the plumage on the wings and tail are bright blue, with black bars and white spots. The underside (chest, abdomen, and underneath the tail) is ashy-white. Her legs and feet are black and her eyes are dark brown.
Female juvenile blue jays are similar in appearance to adults, but appear fluffier. Their markings are also less pronounced. Plus, their plumage is grayer overall. Like the adults, male and female juveniles are nearly identical to one another.
Are female blue jays bigger than males?
Female blue jays are generally smaller in size than males. However, it is difficult to tell the two apart based on size alone. Observing male versus female behavioral differences is the best way to tell them apart.
Female blue jays look strikingly similar to their male counterparts. Luckily, the two sexes exhibit different singing, nesting, feeding, and courtship behaviors. Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to tell them apart based on observation. We will take a closer look at these differences in the sections to follow.
Singing and Calls
Blue jay songs and calls are separated into five categories – Jeer calls, pumphandle calls, intrapair contact calls, rattle calls, and other sounds. The “other sounds and calls” category serves as a catchall used to categorize calls that do not fall into the previous four categories.
Females engage in a few situational calls that males do not. Begging, for example, is an intrapair call that primarily adult females (and nestlings) use. It starts as a kuet kuet sound, moves to kueu kueukueukueu, and ends with a whiny, ennnyaa. Females use begging calls when a male approaches to bring her food. During the call, the female jay flicks her wings, matching the increasing tempo of the song.
Rattle calls are another sound generally emitted by females. They often engage this while in spring and fall flocks, when there is some excitement amongst the group. Rattle calls can also indicate the approach of other jays or a potential predator.
Females also use the peep call – a series of high-pitched but soft whistles given before or during egg-laying. This call is typically engaged when the male is foraging nearby. Males rarely, if ever, use this call.
Nesting and feeding
Females generally choose the nest site. You may observe her making the final choice by rubbing her chest on the site where the nest will be built. Both the male and female jay gather nesting materials; however, the female does most of the building while the male passes her twigs and plant matter.
Once the female lays her eggs, she then incubates them – males do not take part in incubation. Instead, he provides his mate with food. The female remains on the nest – only leaving for short stints to stretch, preen, relieve herself, or take food from the male.
For the first week or two after the eggs hatch, the female stays with the nestlings, brooding them while the male brings meals for his mate and the chicks. Once the brooding period is over, the female begins to forage and both parents bring food for their young. Overall, males appear to do most of the feeding.
Blue jays typically mate for life. As with many other bird species, the males put on a courtship show when it’s time for females to choose a mate. Blue jay courtship may involve several males displaying for and pursuing one or more females. The female is easy to pick out during this process – she will be sitting back and observing or being pursued by one or more males as she moves about.
Can female blue jays raise young alone?
It is highly unlikely that a female could successfully raise her young alone. During the incubation and brooding periods, females rarely leave the nest. She depends upon her partner to bring food. If something happens to the male during either of these periods, the female would need to forage for herself and her young. Leaving the nest for long periods while the chicks are in such a vulnerable state, would likely result in loss of the chicks.
On the other hand, if the female lost her mate after the brooding period ended, she is far more likely to raise a successful brood. After the first week or two, the young are much less vulnerable and do not require constant care. Even with a mate, the female generally begins to leave her young alone at this stage while she forages.