The “blue” in the names of both the Bluebirds and Blue Jays represent the color of their plumage. And while some people often tend to confuse between these birds, they’re not all that similar. In fact, besides the fact that they’re blue songbirds, there’s hardly anything else that they have in common.
In this article, we are going to discuss the differences between bluebirds and blue jays on all grounds, such as appearance, habitat, personality, and so on. If you’ve ever found yourself mixing these birds up when you talk about them, this article will clarify all your doubts.
Bluebirds and Blue Jays: At a glance
The first and most crucial difference between bluebirds and blue jays is their family. Bluebirds belong to the thrush family (Turdidae), a large family of songbirds that homes thrushes and robins. All members of this family are medium-sized and display significant sexual dimorphism in their plumage.
On the other hand, the blue jays are members of the corvid family, which is why they’re intelligent and have a striking plumage. Additionally, like all corvids, these birds display sexual dimorphism not in their plumage but their size, with the males being slightly larger than the females. Let’s take a quick look at some basic features of these birds:
|Scientific name||Sialia genus||
|Family||Thrush family||Corvid family|
|Length||15-21 centimeters (5.9-8.3 inches)||
22-30 centimeters (9-12 inches)
|Weight||24-37 grams||70-100 grams|
|Wingspan||25-36 centimeters (9.8-14.2 inches)||
34-43 centimeters (13-17 inches)
|Tail shape||Short and narrow||Long and wide|
|Lifespan||about 6-10 years||
about 18-25 years
Differences in appearance
The most obvious difference between bluebirds and blue jays is in their appearance. As you can see in the table given above, bluebirds are significantly smaller than blue jays, with even their largest specimen not coming close to an average-sized blue jay. In terms of mass, the blue jays weigh roughly thrice as much as a bluebird.
Before we look at the other significant differences between the appearance of bluebirds and blue jays, let’s take a quick look at their physical description first:
What do Bluebirds look like?
The genus of bluebirds consists of three different species, and all of them are found in North America:
Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis)
Declared to be the state bird of New York and Missouri, the Eastern Bluebirds are the largest bluebird species that mostly inhabit the orchards, farmlands, and other open habitats.
These birds display sexual dimorphism, wherein the males possess a plumage colored in a brighter shade of blue than their female counterparts. Their head, back, wings, and tail are all blue, with a brownish-red patch covering their breast. The lower parts of their underbody are pale white.
On the other hand, the females have some patches of grey on their otherwise pale blue head, wings, and tail. Their breast is also paler than the males and appears almost orange. The beak and feet of both sexes are dark grey.
Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana)
The Western Bluebirds are another bluebird species that are found in semi-open terrains, coniferous, and other mature forests. Although the plumage of these birds is slightly similar to the closely related Eastern Bluebirds, they’re smaller than them and have a stockier body.
Western Bluebirds are sexually dimorphic, with the males having a bright blue head and wings, orange patch on their throat and their back, and grey underbelly and undertail coverts. The females, on the other hand, have their heads, wings, and tail covered in pale blue, a grey throat, and a duller breast. Their tail is also slightly shorter than their male counterparts.
Mountain Bluebirds (Sialia currucoides)
Found in the mountainous regions of the western United States, the Mountain Bluebirds are the only bluebird species that lack any shade of brown in their body. The males are covered almost entirely in a bright turquoise blue, with a paler underbelly.
In contrast, their female counterparts have a grey head, throat, and underparts, with dull blue wings and tails. In the months of fall, the females develop a slight orangish tinge on their throat and breast.
What do Blue Jays look like?
Endemic to the eastern parts of North America, Blue Jays are passerine birds from the Corvid family. Both sexes of these birds are identical in their plumage, displaying sexual dimorphism in their size.
Blue jays have a prominent crest of feathers atop their head that can change its position according to their mood. When these birds are resting, their crest lies flattened against their head, while in moments of excitement, it stands straight. Although they have a white face, the rest of their bodies, including their crest, back, wings, and tail are colored in a brilliant shade of lavender blue.
On their flight feathers, you can notice both black and white bars, whereas only black bars are found on their tail feathers. While their beak, eyes, and legs are all black, they also possess a black plumage on their throat, nape, and face. This plumage is differently patterned in all blue jays and helps in distinguishing between each individual.
Major differences in appearance
- Blue jays have tall and lean bodies with their thick neck and chest standing out. On the other hand, the chest of the bluebirds is slick, with a plump stomach that gives them a stocky structure.
- The blue jays have a crest on their head, while the bluebirds possess no such thing.
- The bluebirds have a thinner bill, while the bills of blue jays are thick and stout.
- Blue jays have long tails and feet, just like the rest of the corvids, while bluebirds have shorter feet and tails in proportion with their body.
Difference in vocalization
Both the blue jays as well as bluebirds have distinct vocalizations. Blue jays, known for being the noisiest backyard birds, produce a variety of calls, ranging from loud jeers to soft whispers. Their vocalizations are usually made of whines, clicks, whirs, chucks, and liquid notes.
Blue jays are also fond of whistling and gurgling and often do it when they are happy or content. They also seem to enjoy mimicking hawks for reasons unknown and would occasionally snap their beaks aggressively to do it. Once they start singing, these birds can go on for about 2 minutes without a break.
On the other hand, the bluebirds produce a warbling song that is fairly low-pitched and consists of not more than three short notes. These birds cannot sing for more than 2 seconds at once and are also more conservative about their songs, preferring to sing only in the company of their own.
While their songs are not widely heard all year long, the male bluebirds sing vigorously at the beginning of the breeding months, hoping to attract a partner.
Differences in behavior and personality
Even if you were to ignore all the differences between the appearance and vocalizations of these birds, their distinct behavior and personality would still set them apart.
Blue jays are highly social birds that you will rarely find alone. They’re used to living in large groups and are very friendly and helpful in their community. On the other hand, bluebirds, although not entirely solitary, are more reserved than the formers. These birds often frequent in pairs or in groups of 3 or 4 birds, but nothing larger.
And while bluebirds are easy-going and have quite a laid-back personality, the blue jays are loud and aggressive. These birds are highly territorial and fiercely protect their own. It is their aggressive nature that has earned the blue jays a reputation as bullies. If they’ve become familiar to your bird feeder, you will notice how they bully other, smaller birds into leaving it alone.
Differences in habitat
Bluebirds have always preferred to inhabit open habitats, such as sparse woodlands and their edges, open field, and farmlands, as well as in the suburban areas. Even the Mountain Bluebirds, which are the least common of the three species in the States, are mostly found in mountain prairies and alpine meadows.
On the other hand, the blue jays enjoy living in mature forests with tall trees. These birds enjoy the dense greenery of the forests but are also highly adaptive and have learned to live alongside us in the suburban and urban areas.
While there are places in the United States where you can find both these birds, they are abundantly found in different regions.
The blue jays are common in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Utah. On the other hand, the bluebirds are more popular in Texas, North and South Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, as well as the western parts of Nebraska and Arizona.
The difference in nesting preferences
The nest of Bluebirds
The bluebirds are primarily cavity-nesters, preferring to nest inside natural cavities, such as dead or dying trees of oak and pine or the tree holes built by woodpeckers. In the absence of these, they will also nest in nest boxes or any other artificial refuge.
Although these birds don’t build their nest from scratch, they line up these cavities using any nesting material they can find, such as grass, twigs, or pine needles. If you put out nest boxes for the bluebirds, keep them out all year round; during winters, they will need protection from the cold temperatures.
The nest of Blue Jays
On the contrary, the blue jays believe in building their nests. It makes sense for them, as they are much larger in size than the bluebirds and wouldn’t fit into most cavities. Both the males and the females participate actively in the nest-building process. Their nests are usually located in the forks of trees (where the branches meet the bark).
Blue jays’ nests are shaped like a cup and are built using moss, grass, twigs, barks, and anything else they can find. These nests are usually placed at least 20 feet above the ground.
Differences in food preferences
While both bluebirds and blue jays are omnivores and would probably eat the same food, they have their own favorites.
Bluebirds are more drawn to suet than seeds. These little birdies enjoy a primarily insectivorous diet and feed on fruits and berries during the winter months when it becomes challenging to hunt insects. Mealworms are one of the bluebirds’ favorites, which is why birders often use these (live or frozen) to lure them in.
On the other hand, the large and rowdy blue jays are crazy about seeds and nuts. These birds will raid the feeders that are filled with peanuts, corn, and sunflower seeds. Besides these, they also enjoy beechnuts and acorns a great deal. It is often during winters that they will usually go after suet.
Attracting these birds to your bird feeders
Despite all their differences, both bluebirds and blue jays are beautiful birds you might want to invite into your yard. Below, we’ve listed some of the simple yet effective methods that you can employ if you wish to lure either of them to your backyard or garden:
- Bluebirds take their security and comfort very seriously, which is why birdhouses would work as an ideal feeder for them. Not only are these houses more secure, but they can also easily hold mealworms, which are a favorite of the bluebirds.
- Bluebirds enjoy hunting for insects and often look for a high vantage point from where they can do it properly. A hunting perch in your garden can, therefore, lure them in.
- Having trees and shrubs like dogwood, hawthorn, honeysuckle, red cedar, pokeberries, and wild grapes in your yard is also an attractive factor for the bluebirds.
Attracting Blue Jays
- Because blue jays are large and bulky birds, hanging feeders might be difficult for them to perch on and are unlikely to entice them. Instead, go for pole-mounted tray or platform feeders that have enough perching space for them.
- Blue jays are intelligent birds with the tendency to hide extra food under leaf litter to store them for later. If there is leaf litter in your yard, it will allow them to cache more food, ultimately drawing them to it.
- Blue jays are also attracted to yards where their favorite trees and plants grow, such as hickory, oak, red mulberry, birch, sumac, beech, and wild cherry.
Did you spot a blue-winged bird in your backyard and are wondering if it is a bluebird or a blue jay? Although both these birds have a blue plumage, they are entirely different from one another. If you go through the article carefully, you will learn everything you need to know in order to distinguish between these birds.
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