The Blue Jay – Vocalizations

Blue Jays are often considered to be among the most intelligent birds. This makes them both very interesting and hard to capture and study (Kroodsma, 2005). Not much work has been done on the vocalizations of Blue Jays and most of the research that has been done is unpublished work by graduate students. What we do know about their vocalizations, however, is very interesting. Blue Jays are songbirds by bloodline, and closely related to many birds with many very complex songs. However, they do not sing, but instead rely on calls to communicate (Kroodsma, 2005). Even though they do not sing, Blue Jays have an immense vocabulary that makes a categorization of their calls difficult. Their calls can be sorted into four categories that are based on frequency range, tonal quality, harmonics and function. These categories are jeer calls, pumphandle calls, intrapair contact calls, rattle calls and a fifth category that includes any other calls that don’t fit in the first four groups. Many of these calls are used in multiple contexts and have many variations, making these categories hard to distinctively draw.

Jeer calls are used to assemble Jays, for mobbing and when the Jay feels threatened. Jeers are harsh, loud and non-musical calls that are nonetheless rich in harmonics All other aspects of these calls, such as frequency, inflection, tempo, and so on, vary from bird to bird and call to call. Pumphandle calls are musical and clear and sound like whistles. One form of these calls serves as an alarm for a low-intensity threat. When making intrapair contact calls, Blue Jays make low-volume guttural clicking noises.These are emitted while the paired Jays are performing activities such as nest-building or foraging, or when they are interacting with another pair. Begging calls, produced both by young offspring and by adult females, are an example of an interpair contact call. These calls vary based on the excitement level of the pair. Rattle calls are only emitted by females and are a series of rapid clicks that often have one sharp click at the beginning and end of the call. These are often emitted within a flock, as alert calls, or when another jay intrudes on a pair’s space.

Blue Jay’s acquire their entire vocal repertoire within 6 months from birth. Some calls are probably developed from cries, for example jeer calls and intrapair contact. These disappear from a Blue Jay’s repertoire a few months after their postfledging period ends, but these calls reappear months later in a different context. Blue Jays learn most of their calls, especially the calls that belong to the Pumphandle group. There have been experiments that show that nestlings who are raised in isolation up to their 8th month of life will not develop a Squeaky-Gate Call, and the rest of their calls were fairly different from a Blue Jay’s normal calls. On the other hand, a nestling that is raised exposed to recorded calls will develop calls that resemble the one of the model. For Blue Jays, an exact learning period has not been experimentally determined, although it is probable that Blue Jays are capable of learning new calls and modifying their old ones throughout the course of their lives.

The Blue Jay often modulates its repertoire calls in order to mimic the sounds of other birds. Some calls can be clearly traced down to the song they are mimicked from (Kroodsma, 2005). For example, imitations of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks are modulations of jeer and pumphandle calls, and Cooper’s Hawk and Eastern Screech-Owl calls are often modulations of intrapair contact calls. Blue Jays in captivity have even been able to imitate the sounds of American Crows, domestic felines, and some human sounds.

Birds who do not have a mate call more frequently than mated jays during pre-breeding season. This supports the idea that Blue Jays sing with the purpose of attracting a mate. The frequency with which Blue Jays sing certain calls depends on the season; some songs are more common during the period January to April than from May to June, which is the nesting period. This repertoire frequency is often reversed during these seasons and the songs who were not as common during January to April become frequently used from May to June. On the other hand, intrapair contact calls are common throughout the whole year. Blue Jays generally vocalize while perched in trees. Some calls, like jeer and intrapair contact calls, can be given in almost any position or situation, although rarely while foraging on the ground. Finally, pumphandle calls are generally given in flight during flocking of fall and spring.

The following diagrams are spectrograms of a variety of Blue Jay calls. Spectrograms show the frequency over time of the vocalizations made.

A) Ditonal Jeer Call. B) Monotonal Jeer Call. C) Squeaky-Gate Call. D) Bell Call. E) Kut Kuet Call. F) Rattle Call


Further research in this field might center on the evolutionary reasons why blue jays don’t sing and when their last ancestor had song. This is an evolutionary question that could be answered with the help of phylogenies, which are diagrams that show evolutionary history of species. It would also be interesting to investigate the Blue Jay’s propensity to mimic hawk cries – are they somehow physically predisposed to be especially good at mimicking hawk cries or is it just what calls they are exposed to that determines who they mimic? Playback experiments could be useful in determining whether Blue Jays are particularly likely to mimic hawk calls. Field studies will be useful in further determining which calls are used in which situations.




Goto, K. 2014. Visual search and attention in blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata): Associative cuing and sequential priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Animal Learning and Cognition 40: 185-194.

Kroodsma, D. 2005. Songbirds without a song In: Kroodsma, D. The Singing Life of Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, pp. 179-191.

Schaef, K.M. and Mumme, R.L. 2012. Predator vocalizations alter parental return time at nests of the hooded warbler. The Condor 114: 840-845.

Further references: (Accessed May 2nd, 2015) (Accessed May 2nd, 2015)

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8 Responses to The Blue Jay – Vocalizations

  1. Aj says:

    I want to share this:
    I have a neighbor over the fence who
    Jabbers just over my fence all day
    Long. Another nuisance cel user!

    I have been given my new found jay
    Pals a veritable paradise with bread
    And bird baths . You know how they shriek!

  2. Jessica says:

    Heather, I have Blue Jays that do the very same thing! I was looking for details on their calls for this very reason. I find it so strange that you mentioned it.

  3. Richard says:

    We have a large country yard with many Blue Jays living in four large maple trees. I’ve heard many different sounds from both males and females but the one I posted today on instagram (backyard_birder_indiana is the most unusual I’ve ever heard.

  4. Heather says:

    We have 5 blue jays that make a soft whistle sound when they want a peanut. I can’t find the sound online anywhere.

  5. Diane Pettigrew says:

    My blue jays laugh at me. Is that a normal call or are they mimicking us?

  6. Jody Hedrick says:

    I have studied a blue jay family this year (2021). It actually started in April. I noticed a red tailed hawk flying around the area. Then 2 of them male and female scouting out an area for a nest. I put different types of bird feeders out each year, so this year I did some things different. So that I would not be putting my birds in danger. I noticed that the blue jays saved the smaller birds several times by warning them of the hawks presence. Then one early morning while I was watching everything wake up, I witnessed the momma red tail off the nest with her mate. They were scouting out food and sure enough they flew into the blue jays tree. So I threw some rocks up there to scare them off it worked. The next day I found some blue jay feathers at the bottom of the oak tree. Then I heard this strange frog like noise. As I looked up there she was, it was a momma blue jay sitting on her nest. I had some peanuts in my pocket so I set them on the branch and very carefully backed away. The next day while i was out front pulling some weeds I heard the same noise again. When I looked up she was perched high up in my dogwood tree. I went and got some peanuts and carefully scattered them in the tree limbs. She sounded the alarm and then the most amazing thing happened. There were 4-5 blue jays that came and retrieved the peanuts. It has continued everyday several times a day. I have fed the babies and the adults. I have had up to 25 jays at one time, they come from all around . It’s been a truly awesome experience being able to interact with them. They are truly intelligent birds. They learned where my bedroom window is and will come and yell for me at first light and I will throw a peanut down to the ground one at a time and they will fly down from the dogwood and retrieve them. I absolutely love them. They have so many different sounds that they use to communicate with each other. And also with me.

  7. Diane Thomas says:

    Thnks for the explanation. I’ve been hearing birds make low-volume clicking noises similar to dolphin sounds underwater. I thought it might be crows, but I saw today that it was coming from a group of 4 blue jays perched high in a tree.

  8. Corrin Jessen says:

    Has anyone ever heard a blue jay make a loud scream that sounds like a bell bird? I jist heard a bell bird like scream and the only bird in my area that could remotely make that kind of sound would be a blue jay.

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