Most people are surprised when they first learn that the Blue Jay is a near relative of the Crow. The difference in color is certainly marked, but in other ways the resemblance is striking. Neither bird can utter its most characteristic note without gesticulation. Watch a Crow from a car window when the caw is inaudible, and the bowing and opening of the wings are all the more noticeable. The motions which the Jay makes when screaming are not so well known, as the sound generally comes from a screen of leaves. Both birds are thieves and seem to relish their thieving life; both can live on almost any food; both are heartily hated by their neighbors in bird world. The Jay is more bitterly detested by the other birds than the Crow. He is himself suspicious, and at the approach of a hawk, owl, or man, warns the woods by his cries. Besides the ordinary djay, djay, the loud scream so familiar in the autumn woods, the Jay has other cries; a note like a wheelbarrow turning on an ungreased axle, a high scream exactly like the Red-shouldered Hawk's, and such a variety of lesser notes that one never is surprised to find that any unusual sound heard in the woods is produced by the Blue Jay.
Though one of the noisiest of birds when pursuing an intruder, the Jay has learned to slip through the trees without a sound, and conceals its bright blue and white in a remarkable way. A pair of Jays may be nesting in some evergreen in our very garden, and unless we happen to see the female slip into the tree, we may remain entirely unaware of their presence. The nest is roughly constructed of twigs and roots, and is placed in a tree from six to twenty feet from the ground. On a lining of finer roots are laid four or five brownish or greenish eggs, spotted with yellowish brown. The young are hatched by the middle or end of June.
The Jay in spring is undoubtedly a reprobate. He cannot resist the temptation to sneak through the trees and bushes, and when he finds a nest of eggs temporarily left by its owner, to thrust his sharp bill through the shells; even young birds are devoured. In the autumn, however, the Jay is a hearty, open fellow, noisy and intent on acorns and chestnuts. The woods ring with his loud screams, as he travels through them with his companions. It is amusing at this season to observe them obtaining chestnuts, a favorite food. They drive their powerful bills into a nut and wrench it out of the burr, then fly off with it to a convenient limb and hammer it open. Many Jays spend the entire winter in the northern woods, subsisting on nuts, but the large numbers observed in the fall are evidence that many others are moving southward, where food is more plenty.
Jays and squirrels are curiously associated; both live in the autumn and winter, innocently enough, on nuts and acorns; both, in spring, poach on the eggs and young of birds. One becomes fond of each of these rascals in spite of his undoubted villains, and is glad that though neither Squirrel nor Jay is protected by law, and in some states both are constantly persecuted, neither seems to be diminishing in numbers.
In Europe, the Crow and the Jay have several relatives, many of whom, such as the Magpie, Rook, and Jackdaw, share the family characteristics. They are all thieves, clowns, and impudent fellows, and yet win, if not affection, yet a certain degree of good-humored toleration.