Winter range, habitat and movement
Winter Diet and Foraging
In the middle of winter, a flash of blue and a burst of noisy activity around a garden feeder is a stunning sight sure to brighten up even the saddest dreary day.
When temperatures start to drop, flocks of bluebirds flock to feed and can be seen hopping across backyards, parks and forest floors across the eastern United States in search of food they cunningly stash.
To learn more about where to find bluejays in winter and how these striking birds survive sub-zero temperatures, read on.
Closeup of a blue jay perched on a snowy tree branch in winter
Winter range, habitat and movement
Do Blue Jays Fly South for the Winter?
Bluebirds have a particularly interesting and unpredictable relationship to migration, and the reality is that there is no set pattern to where they go, when they leave, or why they are prompted to go.
Some bluebirds migrate, others don’t. Some may fly south one year but remain in their territory the following winter. One year may see migrating flocks of hundreds of bluejays leave one area, while the next they may stay in place to feed.
A true ornithological mystery!
Some studies have shown that younger bluebirds are more likely to migrate, while older, more mature individuals spend the winter in the same areas where they breed.
What is the winter range of bluebirds?
Bluebirds live year-round in all US states east of the Great Plains, and in the southernmost regions of the 10 Canadian provinces, especially in the eastern part of the country. Some populations at the northernmost end of the range may migrate within a few years, flying south along the Atlantic coast.
Bluebirds range as far south as Florida and along the Gulf Coast to central Texas.
Populations in the South may be temporarily inflated by the arrival of birds from extreme northern regions, and larger “winter invasions” have occasionally been recorded in western states.
An analysis of banded bluejays from three northeastern states showed that 11 percent of birds from those regions traveled to southeastern states during the winter, while 89 percent stayed in their breeding grounds.
Where do bluebirds live in winter?
Bluebirds seek out evergreen trees with dense foliage to provide warmth and protection during winter roosting overnight. While some did migrate, many remained in their territories during the colder months and relied on food from their foresighted early burials in the fall.
Three bluebirds foraging in the snow
How are the Blue Jays preparing for winter?
Once the breeding season is over, bluebirds turn their attention to winter survival plans. Pairs join larger scattered flocks to forage together, visiting bird feeders and backyard decks for peanuts, berries, and seeds.
In early fall, when food supplies start to dwindle, bluebirds will stockpile food for revisiting. These stores, most commonly acorns and beech nuts, are hidden under foliage or loosely covered in dirt, and are scattered at various locations within their home.
How do bluebirds keep warm?
Bluebirds roost overnight in especially dense evergreen foliage because these offer the most protection when temperatures plummet. They shake their feathers to insulate their bodies, creating a layer of trapped warm air that raises their body temperature. They also groom regularly, using oil secreted by urinary glands at the top of their tails to cover their feathers for extra insulation.
Can bluebirds survive the cold?
In parts of northern Canada and the United States, temperatures could drop significantly at the northernmost end of the blue jay’s range, making it especially hard for wildlife, especially small, light-weight birds.
While bluebirds adapt well to plummeting temperatures by roosting and fluffing their feathers in dense foliage, some conditions have proven too harsh for their survival. A study in the upper Midwest found that about 50 percent of bluebirds recorded didn’t survive the winter as temperatures dropped to -30°C (-22°F).
A common sight after a cold night is blue jays spreading their wings and opening their beaks, soaking up sunlight to warm their bodies.
During the winter, bluebirds utilize foods such as acorns and beech nuts that they prepare and store in the fall
Winter Diet and Foraging
What do bluebirds eat in winter?
In winter, insect and nectar supplies are shorter than in spring and summer, so bluebirds need to adapt their diets to natural conditions. They may forage more often near backyard feeders, looking for leftovers, and are not picky eaters, eating whatever they come across, including roadkill and carrion.
Do bluebirds store food for winter?
Bluebirds spend a lot of time storing food in the fall and are especially active in oak forests, where they will scour the floor for fallen acorns for future consumption.
The cache takes the form of “scattered hoarding,” in which acorns are buried under leaves at many different locations in their usual habitat. Bluebirds have been observed to carry acorns and nuts up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from where they are found in order to hide them.
Cache sites are remembered and revisited when naturally available food sources are scarce, but these acorn caches are often left unattended and eventually grow into oak trees. Other foods that bluebirds store for winter food include beech, hazelnuts, and hickory nuts.
Blue jay perched on a branch of a snow-covered pine tree
How do they drink/find water in winter?
Many backyard feeding stations include birdbaths that are constantly replenished with fresh water. Some may even have heated birdbaths that won’t freeze even if the outside temperature drops below freezing.
Do bluebirds go to feeders in winter?
During the winter months, many backyard feeders witness an influx of bluebirds, who come to feast on peanuts, sunflower seeds, and leftover meal scraps. While they may visit feeders any time of year, as the weather worsens, fewer insects and larvae mean backyards are quickly becoming the first choice for hungry bluebirds looking for a quick and easy energy fix.
Bluebirds are frequent visitors to backyard feeders in winter
spotting bluebirds in winter
Bluebirds are frequent visitors to bird feeders in winter, so stocking your feeding platform with peanuts or even collecting beech nuts or hazelnuts is a surefire way to increase the chances of your yard being illuminated by a sudden flash of sky blue wings. .
During the winter, bluebirds gather in flocks to feed in woodlands, so head to oak, beech and hickory plantations and look at the floor where flocks of bluebirds may be sifting through fallen leaves for nuts or acorns.
Are bluebirds active in winter?
Staying active in winter is a key survival strategy for bluebirds, and their constant foraging and active presence at backyard feeders, as well as large food-buying gatherings on the forest floor, provide them with the energy reserves they need to survive cold weather .
What do bluebirds do in winter?
Bluebirds form loose winter foraging flocks and spend days foraging, retrieving acorns and other nuts from the cache where they buried them earlier in the year. They are also more often found on backyard feeding platforms during cold weather.
Many remain on their territories year-round, although some small populations at the northernmost ends of their ranges are migrating south to areas with better food supplies and milder climates.
Winter nights are spent in roost, and spots deep in the evergreen foliage are popular because they offer double protection—from predators and extreme weather conditions. Feather fluffing is a common way to maximize body temperature when temperatures drop rapidly overnight.
flock of bluebirds in winter
Do bluebirds have winter feathers?
After breeding, bluebirds completely molt, shedding every single feather in their plumage over the course of about a month. The new plumage that grows during this annual process is identical in color and marking to the feathers it replaces, meaning winter bluejays are indistinguishable from spring bluejays.
Do bluebirds flock in winter?
Bluebirds spend the breeding season in pairs. However, once the final chicks have been reared and gained independence, they form winter foraging flocks with other bluebirds nearby.
Advantages of foraging for food as part of a large flock include security in numbers, protection from predators, and the benefit of more ground cover when foraging the woodland floor for potential sources of insects, nuts, or seeds.
Do Bluebirds Nest in Winter?
The nesting period for bluebirds is in the spring and summer, usually between March and July. With temperatures unsuitable for keeping young birds warm, unpredictable weather conditions, and a lack of insects to feed young birds, no bluebird has successfully nested or even attempted to nest during the winter.
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I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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