Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017 Blue Jay Status

January weather typically includes a bout of cold temperatures and snow cover. These conditions bring an increase in activity at the Blue Jay Barrens birdfeeders and give me an opportunity to assess the local Blue Jay population.

Blue Jay numbers are running at about their normal level this year. Except for one or two birds that have a distinctive marking or unique behavioral trait, I can’t tell the individual birds apart, so I don’t know for certain how many are year-round residents of Blue Jay Barrens and how many have just moved in for the winter. The general behavior of the flock makes me think that the majority of individuals are here all 12 months of the year. In particular, I don’t believe that a new arrival would automatically know to sit in the apple tree and yell when the feeder goes empty.

As always, the almost constant movement between the feeding area and the nearby trees makes it nearly impossible to get an accurate count. I spotted 29 Blue Jays in the previous photo, including the one in the air. I know there were at least 47 here at one time, but at that same time I could see several more moving in the trees at the edge of the field a few hundred feet away.

The feeder on the post contains black oil sunflower seed. The area at the base of the tree in the upper right-hand corner of the photo gets a few cups of cracked corn scattered out each morning.

Second to the Blue Jays in producing consistently high numbers in the feeder area are the Cardinals. In between trips to the feeder, the Cardinals tend to hang out in the dry stalks of Giant Ragweed and Wingstem adjacent to the feeder.  The smaller feeder visitors also seem to prefer this area for feeding and loafing. The large crop of seeds produced by these plants has now been nearly consumed.

The tall plant stalks have been battered by rain, wind, and snow, but they continue to remain upright.

It’s not uncommon to count 30 or 40 Cardinals in the feeder area at one time. Most take their seed from the ground instead of directly from the feeder.

Mourning Doves typically arrive a couple hours after sunrise. There are usually 25 or 30 individuals in this flock.

Most of the doves in the area spend the winter gleaning seed from nearby harvested crop fields. A deep snow can make that source of food inaccessible, and the result is a substantial increase in Mourning Doves at the feeder.

These two Blue Jays demonstrate how so much sunflower seed gets on the ground beneath the feeder. They scrape seed up and over the edge of the feeder tray until they find just the seed they want. This also explains why my feeder sometimes so rapidly runs out of feed. I thought for a while that they were searching for the few shelled seeds that could be found in the mix, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. When they start to load up with seed, it’s just the standard seed in a shell. Maybe they just want to be sure that their friends down below have plenty to eat.


  1. I would be happy with just ONE cardinal, and you have 30 or 40. Very jealous. They just aren't out here in our part of California, but I have seen them in Hawaii, on the big island, of all places.

    Really enjoyed all of the bird pictures. Our population in the winter is mostly what my mother called "snowbirds", little junkos that work the ground beneath the feeder. We have a few jays, doves, and a lot of finches in the winter and the grosbeaks take over in the summer.

    1. Hi, KCD. I also have a few Juncos and other winter visitors. I'm happy to say that the Cardinals are here year round.

  2. Amazing! Why don't you send some of those birds our way!

    1. Hi, Stew. When I filled the feeder this afternoon, several birds took off in a northerly direction. I doubt though that they will make it all the way to your house.