American Ornithology: Volume 1.

BLUE JAY. (Corvus cristatus.)

The blue jays seldom associate in any considerable numbers, except in the months of September and October, when they hover about, in scattered parties of from forty to fifty, visiting the oaks in search of their favourite acorns. At this season they are less shy than usual, and keep chattering to each other in a variety of strange and querulous notes. I have counted fifty-three, but never more, at one time; and these generally following each other in straggling irregularity from one range of woods to another. Yet we are told by the learned Dr Latham—and his statement has been copied into many respectable European publications—that the blue jays of North America “often unite into flocks of twenty thousand at least! which, alighting on a field of ten or twelve acres, soon lay waste the whole.”[3] If this were really so, these birds would justly deserve the character he gives them, of being the most destructive species in America. But I will venture the assertion, that the tribe Oriolus phœniceus, or red-winged blackbirds, in the environs of the river Delaware alone, devour and destroy more Indian-corn than the whole blue jays of North America. As to their assembling in such immense multitudes, it may be sufficient to observe, that a flock of blue jays of twenty thousand would be as extraordinary an appearance in America, as the same number of magpies or cuckoos would be in Britain.

It has been frequently said, that numbers of birds are common to the United States and Europe at present, however, I am not certain of many. Comparing the best descriptions and delineations of the European ones with those of our native birds said to be of the same species, either the former are very erroneous, or the difference of plumage and habits in the latter justifies us in considering a great proportion of them to be really distinct species. Be this, however, as it may, the blue jay appears to belong exclusively to North America. I cannot find it mentioned by any writer or traveller among the birds of Guiana, Brazil, or any other part of South America. It is equally unknown in Africa. In Europe, and even in the eastern parts of Asia, it is never seen in its wild state. To ascertain the exact limits of its native regions would be difficult. These, it is highly probable, will be found to be bounded by the extremities of the temperate zone. Dr Latham has indeed asserted, that the blue jay of America is not found farther north than the town of Albany.[4] This, however is a mistake. They are common in the eastern States, and are mentioned by Dr Belknap in his enumeration of the birds of New Hampshire.[5] They are also natives of Newfoundland. I myself have seen them in Upper Canada. Blue jays and yellow birds were found by Mr M‘Kenzie, when on his journey across the continent, at the head waters of the Unjigah, or Peace River, in N. lat. 54°, W. lon. 121', on the west side of the great range of Stony Mountains.[6] Steller, who, in 1741, accompanied Captain Behring in his expedition for the discovery of the north-west coast of America, aud who wrote the journal of the voyage, relates, that he himself went on shore near Cape St Elias, in N. lat. 58° 28', W. lon. 141° 46', according to his estimation, where he observed several species of birds, not known in Siberia;, in particular, described by Catesby under the name of the blue jay.[7] Mr William Bartram informs me, that they are numerous in the peninsula of Florida, and that he also found them at Natchez, on the Mississippi. Captain Lewis and Clark, and their intrepid companions, in their memorable expedition across the continent of North America to the Pacific Ocean, continued to see blue jays for six hundred miles up the Missouril.[8] From these accounts it follows, that this species occupies, generally or partially, an extent of country stretching upwards of seventy degrees from east to west, and more than thirty degrees from north to south; though, from local circumstances, there may be intermediate tracts, in this immense range, which they seldom visit.

[3] Synopsis of Birds, vol. i. p. 387. See also Encyclopaedia Britannica, art. Corvus. [return]

[4] Synopsis, vol. i. p. 387. [return]

[5] History of New Hampshire, vol. iii. p. 163. [return]

[6] Voyages from Montreal, &c., p. 216, 4to, London, 1801. [return]

[7] See Steller’s Journal, apud Pallas. [return]

[8] This fact I had from Captain Lewis. [return]