Clinic Case Study: Raising a Baby Blue Jay

By Michele Wellard, Assistant Wildlife Rehabilitator

On May 13, this baby blue jay, likely having fallen from his nest, was brought into the Wildlife Clinic. The people who found him couldn’t locate the nest to return him, and so they brought him to the clinic. Over the last few weeks, this little blue jay has had many people involved in his care, from dedicated volunteers to our wildlife rehabilitators. Raising a songbird baby can be a real challenge, with a particular diet, a special nest to ensure his legs grow straight, and regular feedings until he’s old enough to feed himself. At the clinic we are careful to make sure the blue jay does not become tame or imprinted, so he can be released into the wild once he’s old enough.

BLue Jay, week 1 (1)These photos show the little blue jay, just two or three days old, upon admission to the clinic. Songbirds like him are born naked, blind, and helpless, and with a strong urge to “gape” (i.e. beg for food). How did we know he was a bluejay? There are several clues. His dark skin is different from other baby birds, who are often more pink. He has absolutely no fuzz on him, whereas other songbird hatchlings sometimes do. The color around his beak is pink – many songbird babies have yellow “lips” called the gape flange. The gape flange, together with the beak color inside the bird’s mouth indicate to the parents exactly where to deposit the food.

By the second week of his life, you can see many changes starting to the blue jay’s appearance, as he grows at a rapid rate. He is fed every half an hour from sun up to sundown by clinic staff and volunteers, just as his parents would. He is fed insects, a mush called “songbird diet” and some berries. You’ll see that he has become “fuzzy” in places (right), and his wing feathers are starting to develop. At this point they are still “blood feathers” (they have a blood supply to nourish the developing feather) and look like little sticks. Tiny spurts of the beginnings of feathers are beginning to emerge from his head. He has almost doubled in weight and has gotten much bigger.

After the second week, our little patient is starting to look more like a bird, particularly a blue jay. He has gotten some real feathers and is looking distinctively fluffy. He can hold his head upright when at rest, and those blood feathers are starting to sheath of the coating and open up at the tips. He’s also starting to get the beginning of that famous jaunty blue jay crest.

By the third week, our little bird is becoming unmistakably a blue jay.  His wing feathers are opening more, showing a variety of white and blue. The feathers on his face are also coming in, creating his distinctive facial markings. At this stage he is still a “nestling,” too young to leave the nest.  However, he is starting to have an urge to open his wings and flap a bit.  He can’t perch yet, but should be doing so soon. Then he will be moved to a small mesh cage, with a training perch to strengthen his feet and leg muscles and give him experience perching and hopping.

On May 29, the blue jay took his first flight, fluttering for a few seconds before landing on the ground.  He’s learning to perch in his small mesh indoor aviary. He will go into an outdoor aviary in early June, and be released in late June.

Blue Jay, June 12By June 12, the blue jay has moved to a larger indoor aviary.  He’s sharing space with several slightly younger blue jays now, enabling them to for social bonds and care for each other.  He’s also beginning to chase crickets and meal worms.

18 thoughts on “Clinic Case Study: Raising a Baby Blue Jay

  1. My mom just found a baby blue jay this morning when she was watering her plants. It was in one of the plants, we couldn’t locate the nest. It looks exactly like the bluejay in the picture when it is 2 weeks old. We don’t know what to do.

    • Hi Crystal,

      Thanks for your comment. The best thing to do is call our Wildlife Clinic, where they can talk you through appropriate next steps. You can reach them at 215-482-8217.

      Anna, Public Relations Manager

  2. My cat found two very young birds that appear to be Jays. They didn’t seem to be hurt too much by the cat. At least I didn’t see any. I brought them inside and put them in a cardboard box with paper towels and grass. One is sickly acting but will open it’s mouth for food. What should I feed them for best results?

    • Hi Gary,
      Thank you for contacting us. The best think to do is bring the baby birds into our clinic – it’s located at 304 Port Royal Ave. There we can assess them, care for them, and release them into the wild when they are old enough.
      Best, Anna, Public Relations Manager

  3. I found a baby blue bird today. He is about 2 weeks old and i took it in cause there was a bunch of kids trying to hurt him so i got a cage that he moves well in and I don’t know what to do now I got him eating well and sleeping well but he’s got a hurt wing. What do I do???

    • Hi Holly, Thank you for contacting us. The best thing to do is to bring the bird to our wildlife clinic, where it can be cared for and released. In the meantime, keep the bird in a warm, dark, and quite space until you can bring it here.

  4. On day 12 of baby scrub jay rehab.
    Local wildlife will not accept.
    Neighbors cut Camelia hedge, exposed nest. Crow tore down & ate one.
    I contacted Audubon/wildlife rehab.
    Put nest in a small basket, placed at same height further back in untrimmed part of hedge….parents nearby but 9 hours later (watched from inside with binoculars) no feeding, getting windy & cold, rain starts. I panic, remove nestlings barely alive & dehydrated.
    Haven’t eaten in 9 hours! I cup my hands @ breathe warm air on them, they finally start moving a little and gape to be fed 30 min later. Whew.
    There are getting fuzzy & preening a little. Eating a variety of mushed up food, soggy cat kibble, berrys, organic wet dog food. Gripping edge of basket, flapping wings and holding their heads up for short periods. It’s crazy how they just shut off at sundown! Amazing creatures. Wondering what next step is?
    Cage with twig perch? They can’t hop yet. Any advice anyone.
    Obvious goal is to release.

    • Hi Janis, Sounds like you were off to a good start. Unfortunately I don’t have any advise. I found a baby blue jay the other day but did not have a good outcome. I was just wondering how you were doing. ~Laura

    • Hi Megan,

      Thanks for reaching out. If you’re in the Philadelphia, please bring the baby jay to our clinic as soon as you’re able. If not, please take a look at this site for a list of wildlife rehabilitation clinics by state.

      Public Relations Manager

  5. Me and my friend found what looks to be an about three week old baby Blue Jay. A cat was trying to eat it so we saved it, it doesn’t look to be hurt. We have it in a cage now and the room is dark and quite. We aren’t sure what or how what to feed it though… There aren’t any wildlife clinics that I know of around here. What should we do to help it?

  6. I found what I believe to be a baby Blue Jay. I actually mowed over him and do not know how he did not get hurt. I could not find a nest or a mama Jay anywhere. I got him to drink a little water from a dropper and a very small piece of moistened bread. I do not know how to properly care for him. I have my alarm set and will try to feed him something again. If he is still alive tomorrow I will try to call your number.

  7. Hi!
    We found a fledgling blue jay by a tree in our backyard, but we’re doing construction back there. We put the bird in a box and filled it with grass and have been feeding it worms and a little bit of water. What should we do? I don’t have a wildlife center near me.

    • Also I forget we found it Saturday and we still have it. But we have not touched it with our own hands, we have used gloves if we had to touch it. We feed her when she makes a lot of noise and the bird has been doing well so far. We still want your opinion on this though.

      • Hi Angelina,

        Thanks for reaching out to us. The best thing to do is to look for the nest and put the baby blue jay back into it. The parents won’t reject the baby, even if you’ve touched it. You might also search here for a wildlife rehabilitator, to see if you an bring the fledgling there.

        Anna, Public Relations Manager

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