A visual journal exploring the birds of Inwood and Northern Manhattan

by Teri Tynes – amateur naturalist, photographer, and illustrator

The Blues of Blue Jays

Blue Jays may often be noisy and active, especially in groups, but when still, their various shades of blue makes these jays dazzling to the eye. A primary color, blue is a popular color choice among humans, perhaps because of its association with skies and oceans. The color is cool as opposed to warm. On the visual spectrum, blue wavelengths are relatively short and high-energy. When particles in the sky overhead scatter the sunlight, the short wavelength blues make it through to visible surfaces. 

Blue Jay. Morning, February 27, 2023. Inwood Hill Park near the Salt Marsh.

Blue Jays, likewise, trick us into thinking they are blue. They do not make blue pigment but rather brown-colored melanin. As with the sky, the scattering light makes them appear blue. A photograph or an artwork of a Blue Jay will nevertheless depict a jay that is blue. Otherwise, we wouldn’t recognize them.

Let’s dip into the paint box. What shades of blue appear on a Blue Jay? The French Ultramarine blue seems close, but too dark, so the Phthalo Blue seems a better choice. That one also misses the mark. Ah, Cobalt Blue, that’s a better match, or maybe a Cerulean blue. A Blue Jay on a bright morning suggests all of the above, mixing some of these blues together and then highlighting them here and there with a touch of silver. The bird’s Latin name is Cyanocitta cristata.  

A page from my sketchbook with pigment experiments.

A Blue Jay is not entirely blue, just mostly its prominent outward-facing feathers. The images of a Blue Jay from an early morning walk in Inwood Hill Park reveal its off-white tail feathers and a considerable light tawny breast. Its face, chest and belly are white or off-white, and the middle section of its wing bars is blindingly bright. A black band, or bridle, defines its chest and face, with individual variation that may help other birds with identification.* 

On a different subject, Blue Jays are especially useful in locating hawks and owls in natural settings. They will gather near a bird of prey to alert others of its location.

These brilliant tricksters may be easily found in Inwood Hill Park and in most of the country east of the Continental Divide all year long. 

Blue Jay. Morning, February 27, 2023. Inwood Hill Park near the Salt Marsh.

Blue Jay. Morning, February 27, 2023. Inwood Hill Park near the Salt Marsh.

* See the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s guide to the Blue Jay.

A Gallery of Blue Jays in Inwood Hill Park

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