by Christine Petersen
Almost 200 years ago, a young naturalist named John James Audubon decided to paint pictures of all the birds of North America. Wherever Audubon went to look for birds, he saw blue jays. These long-tailed, robin-size birds show up in woodlands, farm fields, parks, and back yards. They are hard to miss, traveling in flocks that stay in touch by calling out loudly—Jay! Jay jay jay.
Audubon thought the blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) was beautiful, but he didn't always understand its behavior. His painting shows three jays eating another bird's eggs. He wrote that blue jays attack rival birds and mammals. Today, scientists know that blue jays are not likely to go after other birds unless usual foods are scarce.
When Audubon heard jays mimicking hawk calls, he mistakenly thought jays were trying to scare smaller birds away from food. Some people still think blue jays are bullies that chase other birds away from bird feeders. In fact, blue jay calls can alert other birds when a predator is nearby.
Though sometimes noisy and rowdy, blue jays are actually good neighbors.
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