American Ornithology: Volume 1.

BLUE JAY. (Corvus cristatus.)

Linn. Syst. p. 157, 158.
Garrulus Canadensis cœruleus, Briss. p. 54, 2. t. 4. fig. 2.
Pica glandaria cristata, Klein, p. 61, 3.
Le geay bleu du Canada, Buff. iii. p. 120. Pl. enl. 529.
Blue Jay, Catesb. Car. i. 15.
Edw. 239.
Arct. Zool. ii. No. 38.
Lath. Syn. i. p. 386, 20.
Bartram, p. 290.
Peale’s Museum, No. 1290.

Garrulus cristatus, Vieill. Gal. des Ois. pl. 102.
North. Zool. ii. p. 293.
Bonap. Synop. No. 63.
Pica. cristata, Wagl. No. 8.

This elegant bird, which, as far as I can learn, is peculiar to North America, is distinguished as a kind of beau among the feathered tenants of our woods, by the brilliancy of his dress; and, like most other coxcombs, makes himself still more conspicuous by his loquacity, and the oddness of his tones and gestures. The jay measures eleven inches in length; the head is ornamented with a crest of light blue or purple feathers, which he can elevate or depress at pleasure; a narrow line of black runs along the frontlet, rising on each side higher than the eye, but not passing over it, as Catesby has represented, and as Pennant and many others have described it, back and upper part of the neck, a fine light purple, in which the blue predominates; a collar of black, proceeding from the hind head, passes with a graceful curve down each side of the neck to the upper part of the breast, where it forms a crescent; chin, cheeks, throat, and belly, white, the three former slightly tinged with blue; greater wing-coverts, a rich blue; exterior sides of the primaries, blue, those of the secondaries, a deep purple, except the three feathers next the body, which are of a splendid light blue; all these, except the primaries, are beautifully barred with crescents of black, and tipt with white; the interior sides of the wing-feathers are dusky black; tail long and cuneiform, composed of twelve feathers of a glossy light blue, marked at half inches with transverse curves of black, each feather being tipt with white, except the two middle ones, which deepen into a dark purple at the extremities. Breast and sides under the wings, a dirty white, faintly stained with purple; inside of the mouth, the tongue, bill, legs, and claws, black; iris of the eye, hazel.

The blue jay is an almost universal inhabitant of the woods, frequenting the thickest settlements as well as the deepest recesses of the forest, where his squalling voice often alarms the deer, to the disappointment and mortification of the hunter; one of whom informed me, that he made it a point, in summer, to kill every jay he could meet with. In the charming season of spring, when every thicket pours forth harmony, the part performed by the jay always catches the ear. He appears to be among his fellow-musicians what the trumpeter is in a band, some of his notes having no distant resemblance to the tones of that instrument. These he has the faculty of changing through a great variety of modulations, according to the particular humour he happens to be in. When disposed for ridicule, there is scarce a bird whose peculiarities of song he cannot tune his notes to. When engaged in the blandishments of love, they resemble the soft chatterings of a duck, and, while be nestles among the thick branches of the cedar, are scarce heard at a few paces' distance; but he no sooner discovers your approach than he sets up a sudden and vehement outcry, flying off, and screaming with all his might as if he called the whole feathered tribes of the neighbourhood to witness some outrageous usage he had received. When he hops undisturbed among the high branches of the oak and hickory, they become soft and musical; and his calls of the female, a stranger would readily mistake for the repeated screakings of an ungreased wheelbarrow. All these he accompanies with various nods, jerks, and other gesticulations, for which the whole tribe of jays are so remarkable, that, with some other peculiarities, they might have very well justified the great Swedish naturalist in forming them into a separate genus by themselves[1].

[1] This has now been done; and modern ornithologists adopt the title Garrulus, of Brisson, for this distinct and very well defined group, containing many species, which agree intimately in their general form and habits, and are dispersed over every quarter of the world, New Holland excepted. The colours of their plumage are brown, gray, blue; and black; in some distributed with sober chastity, while, in others, the deep tints and decided markings rival the richest gems.

Proud of cœrulean strains,
From heaven’s unsullied arch purloined, the jay
Screams hoarse.

GISBORNE’S Walks in a Forest.

In geographical distribution, we find those of splendid plumage following the warmer climates, and associating there with our ideas of Eastern magnificence; while the more sober dressed, and, in our opinion, not the least pleasing, range through more temperate and northern regions, or those exalted tracts in tropical countries where all the productions in some manner receive the impress of an alpine or northern station. This is nowhere better exemplified than in the specimens lately sent to this country from the lofty and. extensive plains of the Himalaya, where we have already met with prototypes of the European jay, black and green woodpeckers, greater titmouse, and nutcracker. They inhabit woody districts; in their dispositions are cunning, bold, noisy, active, and restless, but docile and easily tamed when introduced to the care of man, and are capable of being taught tricks and various sounds. The following instance of the latter propensity is thus related by Bewick:—“We have heard one imitate the sound made by the action of a saw, so exactly, that though it was on a Sunday, we could hardly be persuaded that the person who kept it had not a carpenter at work in the house. Another, at the approach of cattle, had learned to hound a cur dog upon them, by whistling and calling upon him by his name. At last, during a severe frost, the dog was, by that means, excited to attack a cow, big with calf, when the poor animal fell on the ice, and was much hurt: the jay was complained of as a nuisance; and its owner was obliged to destroy it.” They feed indiscriminately, and, according to circumstances, on either animal or vegetable substances; plundering nests of their eggs and young, and even, in the more exposed farmyards, disappointing the hopes of the mistress, in the destruction of a favourite brood. They are also robbers of orchards and gardens of their finest fruits; but, when without the reach of these luxuries, they will be content to satisfy their hunger with Nature's own productions, the wild berries or fruits and seeds of the forest and the field.

Several new species have been added to the North American list, some of which are described by the Prince of Musignano in our third volume; and, in addition, we may mention one new species, published by Dr Richardson and Mr Swainson in the Arctic Zoology. The only specimen brought home was killed on the roof of the dwelling-house at Fort Franklin, and was so similar to the Canada jay, that it was not then recognised as a distinct species. The chief distinctions mentioned in the above work are the shorter bill, broader at the base, and nar-rower on the ridge. The plumage looser than in G. Canadensis; the secondaries proportionally longer, and all end in slender but very distinct points, scarcely discernible in the blue jay, and not nearly so much developed in the whisky-jack. Tail is shorter than the latter, the tarsus is more robust.—Ed. [return]