If you find a baby blue jay, it may be tempting to take it inside to care for it. But raising young birds is very difficult and is best left to professionals – it’s also illegal unless you have both state and federal permits.
So what should you do if you find a baby blue jay? That depends on the circumstances, so I’m going to run you through what to do in all the various scenarios here, as advised by The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
The advice that I’ll offer here also applies to Coastal Blue Jays, Interior Blue Jays, Florida Blue Jays, and Northern Blue Jays, as well as most other members of the Corvidae (crow) family.
If Your Baby Blue Jay Is Injured
If you find a baby blue jaybird that appears to be needing assistance, the first thing to do is check it over for injuries. A healthy baby bird is likely to be able to survive in the wild, but an injured one will require professional care.
Look for any signs of bleeding, broken bones, or maggot infestations. If your baby blue jay is injured, take it to your nearest wildlife veterinarian or rehabilitator. Your nearest center can be found on the NWRA website here.
If Your Baby Blue Jay Is Uninjured and Fully Feathered
If you come across a fledgling blue jay that has all of its feathers but doesn’t appear to be able to fly properly, it’s normally best to leave it alone.
Baby blue jays normally leave their parent’s nest after 18-20 days, but go through a further period of hopping around between tree branches or on the ground while they’re learning to fly. This is known as fledging.
It’s during this phase that many people will find baby blue jays on the ground and imagine that there’s something wrong. But although the blue jay parents may be temporarily out of sight, they will normally still be looking after the baby and returning to it for regular feeding sessions.
Because their offspring are so vulnerable at this time, adult blue jays can be incredibly aggressive toward potential threats to their young. This includes other birds, cats, dogs, and humans, too! Blue jay attacks on humans are very common and can be nasty, so it’s prudent to take good care if you approach a fledgling blue jay!
If Your Baby Blue Jay Is Not Fully Feathered
If the baby blue jay that you found is naked or still without some of its feathers, it has probably fallen out of the nest and needs assistance.
The good news is that hatchlings and nestlings can often be successfully returned to the nest that they fell from, and their parents will still gladly care for them.
Keep Your Baby Blue Jay Warm
If your baby blue jay still hasn’t developed a full set of feathers, it will often become dangerously cold outside of the nest. This not only affects its immediate health but also its chances of being accepted back at the nest. A cold baby bird is more likely to be rejected and removed from the nest by a parent bird or its siblings.
Keep your baby blue jay warm by cupping your hands around it. Using your breath may also help. Only once it has warmed up is it safe to return it to its nest.
Find the Blue Jay Nest and Return the Chick
To return a nestling blue jay to the care of its parents, you’re going to need to first find the nest. Immediately above where you found the chick is the most likely place to find it unless your blue jay chick is already capable of walking around.
Blue jays typically nest 5-20+ feet above the ground in a tree crotch or branch fork. Their nest is an open cup built from materials such as sticks, moss, grass, and sometimes manmade materials like paper and string. Blue jays normally lay between 3-7 eggs, so your blue jay chick will almost certainly have siblings!
If you find a nest fitting the description with other babies that look like the one you found, you can be pretty sure you’ve found the right nest and can return the baby.
If You Can’t Find the Blue Jay’s Nest
If you’ve searched thoroughly but still can’t find the nest, your best option is to make a substitute nest to place the bird in. It may seem surprising, but a young bird’s parents may still recognize its own chick’s calls and come to feed it even when it is not in the main nest.
You can create a substitute nest out of a margarine box or another type of small container with some drainage holes punched in the bottom. Fill the box with grass or straw to make a soft, warm replacement nest. Hang this box as high as possible, and as close as you can to where you think the baby came from.
Don’t worry if you don’t see the parents returning immediately – they may be waiting for you to stop watching! If you want to check if the parents will return, try watching from a greater distance from behind some bushes, or from behind glass if it’s near your home.
If the parents don’t return within an hour or so, it’s best to call your local wildlife rehabilitation center to take care of the bird.
If You Can’t Reach a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
As I mentioned earlier on, it’s forbidden by law and also very difficult to raise baby birds on your own. Young birds need regular feeding from dawn til dusk and can’t yet drink from a bowl – they need their water given to them via a pipette. Sadly, most attempts to raise them at home fail.
If there’s some reason that your baby blue jay needs human care but you can’t reach your local rehabilitation center, you may need to temporarily care for it yourself.
Keep the jaybird warm, especially if it doesn’t yet have all of its feathers. Make a nest from a bowl or container lined with grass or straw. Use tweezers to feed the blue jay chick chopped-up crickets or earthworms. You can often find these types of foods at your local pet store.
Keep your baby bird hydrated by offering drops of water from a pipette or the end of your finger. Be careful not to force water on baby birds as this can be just as dangerous as under-watering. As you can see, raising a young bird is not a simple matter! Do your best to find a professional to help instead.
Keep Cats, Dogs, and Children Away From Baby Blue Jays
One of the greatest dangers to baby blue jays during fledging in North America is household pets. Dogs and especially cats can snatch a vulnerable baby before you have time to stop them, and the shock and injury to the baby bird from even a light attack can be fatal.
If you have baby blue jays learning to fly nearby, try to keep a close watch on your pets and prevent them from straying out of sight. Within a week or so, the babies will be proficient flyers and your pets can return to their normal habits.
Young children must also be educated about leaving young birds alone. While it can be an unforgettable experience for them to observe baby birds learning how to fly, they must be prevented from interfering with the natural maturation process.
How Long Does It Take for Baby Blue Jays to Fly?
There are mixed reports about how long it takes for baby jays to develop their flying skills. There may be a wide degree of variation, even within the brood of one nest.
It seems that 5 days is about the normal time it takes for a fledgling blue jay to develop its basic flight skills, but it might take another couple of weeks for them to master the sky!
What Happens to Baby Blue Jays Once They Have Fledged?
During the next 2-3 weeks after fledging, baby blue jays usually remain close to their nest, and rely on their parents for food. Until they’ve completely learned how to feed and fend for themselves, the father and mother birds will continue bringing them food and help to protect them from potential danger.
Depending on where they are located, and which part of the breeding season they’re in, the parents may be thinking about having more broods.
In the southern USA, blue jays can raise up to 3 broods in a single season, whereas in the shorter season of Canada, they may only manage to raise one brood. This will have a big influence on how long the parents will continue to look after their young.
After their fledging period, blue jays may remain in their parent’s territory or begin to explore their own. After a year, they reach sexual maturity and begin looking for their own mate.
Do Blue Jays Mate for Life?
One of the most famous things about blue jays is that, unlike many other bird species, adult birds are monogamous. Once they’ve chosen their mate, they will usually remain with them for several years or even all their lives!
Why Do Blue Jays Lie on the Ground?
You may have seen blue jays lying on the ground with their wings outstretched and wondered whether they were in trouble.
In fact, this fascinating behavior is known as ‘anting’ where blue jays and other types of birds lie in an ant nest as a cunning way to feed on them!
Scientific studies have revealed that the birds lie on the ground, take ants in their beaks, and wipe them on their plumage. As the ants are being wiped on the feathers, they discharge their stinging formic acid spray and thus become palatable for the birds to eat! How clever is that!
Finding a fully feathered, healthy baby blue jay on or near the ground during its fledging period is a perfectly normal and natural occurrence that doesn’t usually require human intervention.
Unless the bird is injured or isn’t fully feathered, it should be left alone where it will soon learn to fly and fend for itself. In other cases, please follow the advice given above, and if in doubt, call your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
If you’re not certain that the wild bird that you’ve found is a blue jay, be sure to check out our guide to 14 birds that look like blue jays!