Slings and Arrows: Why Birders Love to Hate Blue Jays
They're smart, spectacular, and vocally versatile, so is the species really so bad?
In a nutshell, blue jays are the keystone species in restoring stands of oaks and other mast trees in today's fragmented landscape, where forest patches are isolated by farms, suburban sprawl, and highway construction. If you consider that burnished-brown acorns are a major food item for 150 species of birds and mammals and make up at least a quarter of the diets of black bears, white-tailed deer, raccoons, gray and fox squirrels, wild turkeys, and white-footed mice, to name a few, how can one begrudge jays some bird seed?
Moreover, blue jays may be called upon for a greater task in the not-too-distant future. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts that climate change will cause a northward shift of native forests that are adapted to cooler environments. In this scenario, New England's maple syrup industry will become a memory as oaks and hickories replace today's mix of maple, birch, and beech trees. (Native chestnuts, of course, are only a memory.) The latter species will displace northern coniferous forests as they, in turn, push out onto the tundra.
No one, of course, can be certain what the American landscape will look like in another century if global warming continues unabated, as seems likely. But I'm sure of one thing: Should it become necessary, the magnificent, misunderstood blue jay will be up to the task of moving North America's nut trees north once again.