General Question

ibstubro's avatar

I'm in the middle of the Midwest, and I have no bluejays. Why?

Asked by ibstubro (10694 points ) February 10th, 2014

I know on the surface, this seems like a simple, silly, stupid question, but I’m serious.

I feed the birds in the winter, and in winters past, cardinals and bluejays were about equal in attendance. I recall commenting last year that there were few bluejays. This year there is an abundance of cardinals and not a single bluejay.

Is this just a local aberration, or is something decimating the bluejay population?

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55 Answers

ibstubro's avatar

I hope the grumpy fish notes the topics on this question.

Oh, GAIL! Call coming in!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

We have a lot of bluejays in NYS. I have noticed some changes in the mix of birds we get. Have they found another food source and they’re cheating on you with them?

ibstubro's avatar

I’m glad to know you have a lot of jays, @Adirondackwannabe. That means it’s not wide spread, and not the weather.

I’m anxiously awaiting @KNOWITALL’s answer, as she’s just south of me.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I had seven plus in my back yard a few weeks ago, looked like they were headed southeast, and even posted about it on my fb because it was so unusual.

Not sure where you are exactly, but they say the midwest is prone to Oakwilt, a disease of the oak. Maybe check the health of your local trees, that’s all I got. It says there are more oaks in southern climates, so it makes sense they’d follow the food trail.

By the way, hubs and I are pretty into bird-watching informally and plant native grass and keep a less formal back yard habitat for them, rabbits, etc..

Coloma's avatar

According to a Nat. Geo. article on Blue Jays, some may migrate some years and others not. No way to know why, when, or if some resident birds may choose to migrate depending on many circumstances, food availability, climate, etc. Out west here I used to collect date for “Project feeder watch” a Cornell lab of Ornithology data research on migratory bird populations.

I had several years of abundant Pine Siskins and then they skipped a few winters.
Your Blue Jay population may have just decided to winter somewhere else this year.

marinelife's avatar

They are all in the little woods outside my window?

ibstubro's avatar

You know I’m just north of you, @KNOWITALL. I reckon my birds were probably in your yard a few weeks back. I wondered if it might be the extreme cold here @Coloma, too. Critters seem to be better predictors of the climate than people. And yes, @KNOWITALL, Oakwilt has become quite a problem here.

Good for you, @marinelife! The cardinals are great, but I miss the contrasting jays.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@ibstubro There you go, they were hungry so they moved to my place! :) They were almost all on the ground pecking away the whole time they hung out, maybe two days.

keobooks's avatar

I looked up this question on Google. It was interesting to see that several other people had posted the same things over the years. Sometimes the blue jays stuck around and sometimes they left an area.

My theory was that they are very aggressive and territorial. You might be in a no-man’s land between two families of bluejays. But @Coloma is probably correct.

gailcalled's avatar

I see lots of bluejays regulary here in central eastern rural NYS.

pleiades's avatar

Well it’s super warm here in San Diego, perhaps they’ve decided this year they’ll stay in the west coast as the even the south is covered with snow (perhaps where they might retreat if midwestern territories were terribly cold) I see them every year in my back yard pecking at the dirt on the hills. They’re a very territorial bird from my observations.

gailcalled's avatar

edit: regularly

ibstubro's avatar

Pit stop on the on the way to San Diego @KNOWITALL & @pleiades!

Thanks for your trouble, @keobooks. Sorry if @Coloma has my vote as well.

@gailcalled didn’t you hear me calling? I chose my topics from the topics list.
I suspect it must be more temperate in NYS than in my bit of the Midwest. I don’t recall the last time it got warm enough for the ice melt to even work.

keobooks's avatar

Don’t worry about voting for @Coloma instead of my answer. You know you don’t have a prayer when you prefer the other poster’s theory better than your own.

One thing though. I find it odd you say you’ve seen equal numbers of blue jays and cardinals. I recall seeing many cardinals, but usually only two blue jays (mates, I assume) around a feeder. I mean, they are VERY territorial. I don’t think they’d tolerate a second pair nosing around THEIR feeder.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

We get multiple groups of jays at our feeders, as many as 5 or 6 at a time. But ours is the only feeder in the area. My nearest neighbor is 1500 or so feet away.

ibstubro's avatar

I’m sure I’ve seen a number of jays at a time, @keobooks. Right now I have one cardinal that is a butthole and runs all the other cardinals off. You can spot him because he keeps his crest down. Honestly, I don’t know how he has time to eat, as he’s all about keeping track of what all the other cardinals are doing, male and female.

Ah, I have no neighbor, @Adirondackwannabe. Never have at this house, and never will. Nestled into a valley in the Mississippi River bluff. I’m the only show. There you go, @keobooks!

syz's avatar

Our numbers dipped quite a bit in this area a few years back, but they seem to rebounding. I assumed it had to do with West Nile, which jays are susceptible to.

(This article is from 2007, but there was another major wave in 2012.)

ibstubro's avatar

Interesting, @syz. I didn’t know jays caught West Nile. However, I don’t think that’s a problem where I live.

Cruiser's avatar

My first reaction is that this extreme winter has shook things up a bit and to not expect usual visitors to my feeder. True to form I have seen not much else but sparrows, junco’s and Chickadees. But twice now this winter I have seen flocks of Robins and I mean hundreds at a time. Once right after New years and again this weekend. Both right in the thick of the coldest temps and heavy snows. I have never and I mean ever seen a Robin in the winter before.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@keobooks Our hummingbirds are hilarious when they fight over territory. Zippy little critters chasing each other out of three-four different front yards…lol

keobooks's avatar

I love hummingbirds! I’ve never seen more than one at a time, though. I envy you.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@keobooks One of my friends had like 15 at his house one year, it was crazy cool!! My hubs sits on the front porch and takes close-up pics, they’re really cool.

wildpotato's avatar

I see bluejays every so often, and male cardinals (I’m not good enough to find the females by sight); don’t have a sense of any difference in their populations. But I have noticed that the magpies seem to have all disappeared, especially when I visit Colorado. I remember huge flocks covering fields when I was a kid, and it’s creepy to not see any now.

ibstubro's avatar

Traditionally we have robins here, year round, @Cruiser. Causing me to ask, yet again, “Whatever happened to the return of robins being the harbinger of Spring?” I’d say they, like the jays, migrated out of the extreme cold this year.

You need a feeder, @keobooks, or some bright flowers. I’ve seen a dozen+ before, at one time. I took my feeder down, however, because I’m lazy and if it’s not impeccably clean, can kill the birds.

Not sure what a magpie is, @wildpotato. Starling? They have the behavior you describe, here.

jaytkay's avatar

I’m in Chicago and when I saw one this weekend and I was surprised. Even in the summer I rarely spy them, and I work in an office overlooking a small forest.

Cardinals are common here.

I grew up 120 miles away (as the jay flies) in Michigan and blue jays were always around.

Coloma's avatar

Many species flock up in the winters for optimum chance of survival and community foraging.
I wish CA. had Blue Jays and Cardinals, we have Scrub Jays and Stellars Jays that overlap here in the Sierra Foothills but no Eastern Jays. We also get Black headed Grosbeaks and Western Tanagers from Mexico and Central America.The whole state of CA. has millions of Scrub Jays, they are everywhere year round.

ibstubro's avatar

Saw one what? @jaytkay

I don’t even know what a scrub jay is, @Coloma. I guess I had believe Blue Jays to be fairly universal.

As an aside, when my cousin lived down South, he reported that they had Robin Pie. Now, my cousins’ not too high on the food chain, so that might have been a ‘poor people have poor ways’ tradition.

Cruiser's avatar

@ibstubro I have lived in Chicago my whole life and never ever seen a Robin in the winter until late February. Ma Nature is just mixing things up a bit. A least bugs are getting the Mr. Freeze treatment!

gailcalled's avatar

I have small flocks of bluejays (the eastern jay, as opposed to the western scrub jay and the adorable western steller’s jay) regularly here in the very cold, snowy fields of large accidental white pines. Only occasionally does a lone cardinal appear.

I have small flocks of winter robins routinely also.

ibstubro's avatar

We always said robins were a sign of spring, @Cruiser, but I now have my doubts, because it’s commonplace to see them in the snow, up until this year. I’m on a parallel with about Springfield IL. I’m hoping every darned one of those Japanese Beetles froze to death!

I have lots of cardinals, @gailcalled. Now that I think about it, it seems remarkable only because they about the only sizable birds left. No jays, starlings, doves or robins. I think I’m only feeding 4–6 types of birds.

gailcalled's avatar

No crows? They’re around here all winter. At latitude 42.35, I am slightly N. of Springfield., Il.

I also have small packs of juncos daily walking around on the ground looking for non-existent seeds. My sister nearby reports having seen a large male bald eagle several times in the past few weeks. He certainly isn’t fishing in the frozen ponds that provide him food during the more clement weather.

Coloma's avatar

Quick rare bird alert!
A rare Egyptian Goose has been spotted flying towards Springfield IL.

ibstubro's avatar

I have never seen a crow at, around or near my home, @gailcalled. They are in the area, but none visit me.

BIG birds we have an abundance of. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t see a hawk (mostly red-tailed) The bald eagles have been thick with one friend reporting “100’s” at the lock and dam on the Mississippi. -11° forecast for tonight – they might all have moved on by now.

Does that line come with punch @coloma? Way past dark here. So even if it’s scarce as goose teeth and I wanted to freeze my nuts off, there’s no spotting a goose here.

jaytkay's avatar

@ibstubro I saw one blue jay and was surprised.

LostInParadise's avatar

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia and have not seen a bluejay in several years. They used to be fairly common. Apart from cardinals, most of the birds I see come in shades of gray or brown. It was nice having the bluejays add a bit of color.

syz's avatar

Coincidentally, I saw a blue jay n my feeder this morning (bossy thing!).

ibstubro's avatar

Obviously a rogue jay, @jaytkay. I’ve not seen one in weeks.

I agree about the spot of color, @LostInParadise. Now you’ve got me wondering about a shortage of jays again.

Good for you, @syz.

thorninmud's avatar

I’m in Illinois too @ibstubro . The jays and crows (both Corvidae) virtually disappeared when West Nile hit years back. Without the crows, the rabbit population exploded. Now, just in the past couple of years, I see crows coming back (probably from the now immune individuals who survived West Nile and now find themselves with all the rabbit they can eat. I hear the occasional jay, but I don’t think they’re benefiting from the same target-rich environment that has helped the crows come back.

ibstubro's avatar

We have had a huge explosion of hawks here, @thorninmud. I have a few-mile drive to town and I might see 6–8+ on a good day just one-way. Crows are almost non-existent and even though I’m in the sticks, can go weeks or months without seeing a single rabbit.

There are also fox or coyote near my house and all that yelping freaks me out. I see more fox and coyote in the broad daylight than I do rabbit. Last winter I saw a bob cat cross the valley behind my house, but never saw a rabbit.

Seem to have plenty of jays in the summer.

keobooks's avatar

You know what I haven’t heard in a long time in the midwast. Bobwhites. I just recently found out they were ground birds—like pheasants. And I wonder if their habitat is getting smaller and smaller by the years. Anyone else remember the bobwhites? Here is the bobwhite call

ibstubro's avatar

Yes, @keobooks, they’re nearly endangered or endangered. They need prairie, and we’ve nearly eliminated it with farming. They also need cover, like fence row to hide from their enemies. Up the lane from my auction there was an overgrown area, and I would often see them crossing the road. The one neighbor is a butt, and he got into it with the owner of the overgrowth, who then bulldozed it down.

I remember laying in bed at night and them calling and calling. Although I now live just a few miles from there, the birds that were bulldozed were the only ones I recall seeing in my 10 years in this house.

Pretty sure there is an effort underway much like the wild turkey program that brought the turkeys back. In mid-southern Missouri there is a preserve that has been returned to prairie, and they are cultivating the birds there.

keobooks's avatar

That’s really sad. I grew up on a small farm, and small farmers in my area tend to leave brush up as a wind break. So they were all over the place. Now I never hear them and I don’t know why. Probably someone drove them out with a bulldozer too.

ibstubro's avatar

I have read a bit about this, and used to know what happened. I think a lot of it has to do with factory farming where all the fence rows have been removed and there’s no cover. I think bramble is ideal, so the predators can’t follow them in.

keobooks's avatar

Here is a farm that raises bobwhite for people to restock the birds on farms. I doubt this is for hunting purposes if they are endangered. It must be that other people miss the birds as well.

ibstubro's avatar

When my sister got married – decades ago – her favorite agreed to do the reception food. She was a gourmet farmhouse cook, and decided that one of the finger foods would be pickled quail eggs. She boiled them they we’d ‘tap, tap, tap’ then peel. If you broke through to yolk, that was a reject, because it would make her marinade cloudy. Now, the white of a quail egg is about like tissue paper over the yolk.
She then dyed the marinade blue (my sister’s colors), and displayed them in a big nest of fresh parsley.

ibstubro's avatar

Update:

Snowed over 6” last night and I just saw a robin in my back yard. A few minutes later I went to see if it was still there, and saw the first blue jay of the winter!

Odd.

gailcalled's avatar

My best friend ¼ mile up the road keeps 5 or so birdfeeders filled. Yesterday he had a flock of blue jays, a pair of cardinals, one pileated woodpecker, one red-bellied woodpecker, some crows and the small birds…chickadees, juncos, some kind of sparrow, titmice, and nuthatches… all over. I have several flocks of winter robins routinely eating the dried cherries on one of my trees. (A crow just flew overhead).

ibstubro's avatar

I saw a single robin and a single jay. Neither came to the suet or seed that I know of, @gailcalled. A pileated woodpecker did.

BTW, I bought the giant suet cake for the birds, and as long as it’s this cold, it’s a godsend for them. The little suet runs out too quickly and there’s at least a foot of snow in front of the feeders. I just toss the seed out onto the patio – less fighting, more birds.

gailcalled's avatar

My friend just phoned and added the goldfinch, house and purple finches to his sighting list. He does keep several suet feeders out along with sunflower and thistle.

I don’t even have tracks in the snow yet…no birds and no animals walking around. The blanket of snow is pristine. My sister just spotted a very large bunny eating its way around her compost. At this time of year she thinks he’s cute; in the summer she sings a different tune when he makes himself at home in her vegetable garden.

Seven robins just arrived and are perching and feeding in one of my ornamental cherries.

ibstubro's avatar

I am going to have to get to the suet feeder today (sigh).

Now that you mention it, I don’t recall seeing a goldfinch this winter. But for the cardinals and the occasional woodpecker, my birds are boring this winter. Preponderance of titmice, nuthatches and sparrows. At least there haven’t been any starlings.

gailcalled's avatar

I am in my living room watching more snow fall (again) and deciding just how depressed to get. The male red-breasted nuthatch just landed on my deck railing and stayed still long enough for me to ID him and cheer up. Several jays have flown by, barely visible in the snow.

ibstubro's avatar

There’s hope, @gailcalled. My jays are back (there were 2 at the back door when I got up yesterday morning) and today we began the Big Thaw. From weeks with one day above freezing, to 50° + here. There was a puddle at the auction house that threatened to swamp my knee-high gum boots. No overnight freeze tonight, and another nice day tomorrow.

Better weather is in the Midwest and, hopefully, headed your way.

gailcalled's avatar

I watched a real sun set tonight with spectacular colors. I’d forgotten what sunlight looked like.

I believe that the thaw is heading in this direction. 38˚ tomorrow and in the 4o’s for several days afterwards. That means I can get out tomorrow and go marketing; I am almost down to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cans of minestrone or split pea soup and a container of almond milk.

gailcalled's avatar

Well, I spoke too soon. Guess what is falling out of the sky right now? 11:30 AM EST.

gailcalled's avatar

Snowing so hard now that it is a white-out. I despair. 12:25 AM.

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