Do Blue Jays Migrate? [Yes & No.. Let Us Explain!]

do blue jays migrate

If you live in the eastern and central states of America, it’s likely that you will see blue jays in your yard during the winter and even all year round. So, do blue jays migrate?

The answer to this question is not a simple one. Some blue jays do migrate and others do not. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a logical pattern to their migration at all.

An interesting fact to note is that the blue jays that you see in your yard in winter may not be the same ones that were there in the warmer months.

Interesting Facts About Blue Jay Migration

There doesn’t appear to be any strong facts available about blue jay migration, but here are some interesting facts that are known.

  • Thousands of blue jays have been seen migrating along the Atlantic and Great Lakes coastal areas.
  • Some of the resident blue jays in these areas never migrate.
  • It is more likely for young blue jays to migrate, however, many mature adults are also known to migrate.
  • Some individual birds will migrate south one year but may not migrate the next year. These same individuals may then migrate again the following year.
  • The individual blue jays who do migrate, travel no further than a few hundred miles.
  • Less than half of the blue jay population migrate south according to estimates. In fact, this could as low as only 20% of the population migrating.
  • The migratory rate seems to have declined over recent years which could be due to more food availability in their breeding area. More backyard feeders could be attributing to the decline in migration of these birds.
  • It is suspected that these migratory habits are closely related to available food sources.
  • Blue jays are particularly fond of acorns, so this may be the reason that some will migrate south in search of these delectable morsels.
  • Blue jays who do migrate, do so in loose flocks of 6 to 100 birds and only during the day. They start their journey early in the morning and then have a rest around noon, before resuming their journey.
  • Spring migration usually starts around April and continues through to June. On the other hand, Fall migration starts in September and ends in October.
  • Blue jays that choose not to migrate, tend to live longer. This is because the migratory journey can be quite taxing on the birds themselves.

Here’s a map which shows the distribution and migration of the blue jay.


Where Do Blue Jays Prefer To Nest?

Most blue jays nest across eastern North America. Some will nest as far west as the Rocky Mountains while others will go as far as central Canada. Others have colonized areas in the Pacific Northwest. Some birds will also spend the winter in eastern Wyoming and eastern New Mexico.

As you can imagine, some of these areas get very cold in the winter months, however, some blue jays will spend the entire year in the same region while others will migrate south.

Where Is The Best Place To Witness Blue Jay Migration?

One of the best regions to actually witness blue jay migration is the Great Lakes region of North America. This includes the US states of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. It also includes the Canadian province of Ontario.

Many people have witnessed very large flocks of migrating blue jays traveling through this region. In fact, the number of birds that have been recorded are as much as 200 to 270 per hour. These birds have a flight speed of around 32 to 34 kilometers per hour.

An interesting fact that has been observed is that blue jays need to get up their courage before they fly across a large mass of water. They will observe the water from high up in the trees for some time before they finally fly across.

Another great place to witness blue jay migration is along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. If visiting this area, you may see thousands of them in different sized flocks flying overhead. Blue jays are normally very quiet when they fly but will make a ruckus just before taking off and once they land.

Interesting Fact
In the fall of 2007, some hawk watchers at Holiday Beach, witnessed around 50,000 blue jays migrating in just one day.

If you get the chance to visit one of these areas, it’s quite a magnificent sight to see a bright blue band of birds flying high above in the sky.

Some Facts And Speculations About Blue Jay Migration

Because there seems to be no concrete scientific explanation around blue jay migration, some interesting fact and speculations by the birding community have developed over the years.

Here’s just a few of these.

  • In September 2015, observers at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Minnesota counted over 10,000 jays flying past..
  • Blue jays also collect and hide food such as acorns. So, why would they need to migrate if they have ready food stores. It’s also been witnessed that many of these stored nuts are never visited again by the birds. Therefore, they will eventually germinate and grow new trees.
  • It’s the belief of many people, that home owners who leave food out for the birds are increasing. Therefore, there’s now no need for the blue jays to migrate because there’s plenty of food available all year round.
  • From a recent study related to 102,000 banded blue jays in the northeastern states, it was found that only 11% of this group of birds actually migrated.

  • It’s also believed that a winter flock of jays has a certain hierarchy. These flocks will establish a “social rank” among all the birds in the flock. After this hierarchy is established, there’s likely to be more harmony within the group. Therefore, could it be a group decision whether to migrate or not? After all, these birds are highly intelligent.
  • Blue jays that have their breeding ground in Florida don’t migrate at all.
  • Unlike other migratory birds, blue jays do not fly south in order to escape the cold, winter weather. These birds are very adaptable and can survive in even the worst areas of snow. At night time, they’ll sleep deep within the branches of evergreen trees to protect themselves from the cold and bitter winds.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What do blue jays do in the winter?

Blue jays will sleep in dense vegetation in order to protect themselves from the elements on cold winter nights.

Where do blue jays live year round?

Blue jays are found in eastern North America, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. Some will migrate and some will not. Those who live in Florida tend to not migrate.

What attracts blue jays to your yard?

Blue jays love nuts, suet, mealworms, cracked corn and sunflower seeds. They also like small fruits and berries.

How far do blue jays migrate?

Blue jays that do decide to migrate, don’t go very far compared to lots of other bird species. Generally, they’ll only travel a few hundred miles.

How do blue jays survive the cold?

Blue jays, much like cardinals, will grow additional feathers before the cold weather hits. This extra layer of feathers also allows them to fluff up their plumage. This increases the air spaces and allows the birds to retain their body heat.

What do blue jays like to eat in winter?

A blue jay’s winter diet consists mainly of nuts, acorns, seeds and berries. This allows them to gain enough energy from their food to stay warm during the cold, winter nights.

Final Thoughts

So, do blue jays migrate? The answer is some do and some don’t. Even more perplexing is the fact that some individual birds will migrate one year and then stay put the next.

There is very little concrete scientific information as to why the migration of blue jays is so erratic. According to research from banded birds, only around 20% tend to migrate in any one year.

When they do migrate, they do so in flocks of around 6 to over 100. They only fly during the daylight hours and are quite silent when they do.

Unlike other birds, blue jays don’t migrate to go to warmer climates. It’s believed that their migratory habits relate more closely to available food supplies in the regions that they nest in. It’s also believed that because there’s an increasing supply of backyard feeders, the migration of blue jays is declining.

If you do want to witness the migration of blue jays, the best places to see them are in the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada. There have been many sightings of migratory blue jays in these areas over the years.

Have you ever seen a flock of migratory blue jays? Please feel free to share your stories with us in the comments bellow.

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