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Blue Jay VS Cardinal (All You Need To Know)

blue jay vs cardinal

Birdwatchers often have debates over which is the better bird to watch, a blue jay or a cardinal. In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at both birds and compare their characteristics to come up with an answer. 

With information on everything from size and behaviors to diets and more, you’ll be able to get a deep understanding of both these birds so that you can make your own informed decisions! So grab your binoculars, and let’s dive into the facts about blue jay vs cardinal!


Similarities between Cardinal vs Blue Jay

Cardinals and Blue Jays are two species of birds that share many similarities. They both have colorful feathers, measure between eight and nine inches in length, and can be found throughout North America. 

Cardinals and Blue Jays behave similarly, too, as they both usually travel in small groups, scavenge for food together, and feed their young the same types of insects.

Similarly, colored red cardinals and blue jays will even stay within the same general area all year round despite their differences in size, shape, and diet. 

This remarkable ability to coexist is something that makes them a true joy to watch in one’s backyard or at local parks.

Interesting facts about the Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

The cardinal is a beautiful songbird native to North America that is well-known for its unique red color.

Interestingly, young cardinals are born a dull brownish yellow but obtain their characteristic red color as they age; the top portion of an adult male’s feathers contain an actual red pigment, while white feathers and refractive light create the appearance of bright red in females. 

They typically build nests in dense shrubs and trees, away from open spaces, so they can remain hidden and safe from predators.

Often solitary during the winter months and monogamous couples during the summer breeding season, cardinals are known for their loyalty toward one another. 

Additionally, these birds almost never migrate, making them faithful to their habitat year-round. All in all, cardinals certainly lend character to nature with their vibrant color, playful song, and loyal presence.

Interesting facts about the Blue Jay


The Blue Jay is a popularly recognized bird of North America, with striking black and blue plumage. It is the provincial bird of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and it has many interesting characteristics. 

Although they are non matting birds and flock in large groups during the winter months, they can form monogamous pairs when breeding.

In addition to their vocalizations of “jay jay” and “shaaark,” Blue Jays have a unique ability to imitate hawk calls as well as other elements of their environment, sometimes even copying cat meows! 

They may be known for eating acorns, but Blue Jays also like fruits such as apples and persimmons.

When in flight, these swift birds can reach speeds up to 25 mph! All in all, the adaptable and intelligent Blue Jay has found success in different ecosystems across North America, making them a perfect study species for ornithologists.

Recommended article: How To Attract Cardinals To Your Yard? 

13 Interesting & Big Differences

blue jay vs cardinal

When it comes to the differences between a blue jay and a cardinal, there are several that stand out. Visually, cardinals are larger and more vibrant in color, featuring a bright red body with black around their beak and eyes. 

By contrast, blue jays are a little smaller, with a soft grey or bluish-grey body depending on their region, as well as white accents highlighting their wings.

Do they differ Not only visually but also audibly? Cardinals have an up-slurred or mellow phrase, whereas a blue jay tends to sound harsher or sharper like it’s yelling. 

Behaviorally speaking, the two birds can take different directions; blue jays can be aggressive in defending territorial rights, while cardinals are more laid back and content to stay within their borders. 

With all this in mind, one thing is clear: these two birds might look similar at first glance but provide no shortage of fascinating differences when observed more closely!

1. Family/Origin

There is no denying the similarities between blue jays and cardinals: both are members of the family Cardinalidae and are considered passerine birds, distinguished by their large crests, loud calls, and brightly colored feathers.

However, there are key differences in their origin and family that set them apart from one another. 

While cardinals originate from temperate regions such as North America, blue jays are native to a much wider area that includes northern parts of South America as well as eastern Canada. 

In terms of family, it’s worth noting that the cardinal species is more diverse than its blue jay relation; there are around fifty types of cardinals, while only three species of blue jays exist. It’s enough to make anyone take notice!

2. Vocalization

Blue jays and cardinals present a wonderful auditory contrast in many outdoor environments. The distinctive song of the blue jay is described as loud, harsh, and occasionally raspy, providing a truly unique sound to the environment. 

Cardinals, on the other hand, are far more melodic in their vocalizations; their bell-like calls often provide a gentle rhythm among the trees and other foliage.

Together they create a lovely symphony, one that can transport one’s thoughts away from our daily cares into an enlightened space. 

Occurring naturally in harmony or separately playing off one another to present something marvelous, the differences in birdsong between blue jays and cardinals are simply delightful.

3. Coloration

Blue jays and cardinals are two of the most popular North American birds, but few people realize just how different these two species truly are. Both birds share many similarities in their behavior, body shape, and flight patterns, but their coloration sets them apart. 

Blue jays have a vibrant blue back, wings, and crested heads with lighter shades of blue across their chest. On the contrary, cardinals feature a rich red body that is accented by bright orange patches down its sides. 

To complete these distinct looks, blue jays have distinctive black markings around their eyes, while cardinals have a striking black shield-like mask that lines along their beak and cheeks.

All in all, these coloration differences make blue jays and cardinals easily distinguishable, even to unskilled bird watchers.

4. Physical Features

Although both the blue jay and cardinal are beautiful birds, they have very distinct physical features. Blue jays are larger and louder than cardinals, with a wingspan of 11-to-15 inches compared to 9-11 inches in cardinals. 

Blue jays are easily identified by their iconic crest, while cardinals boast striking red feathers on the male’s body, which the female lacks.

Additionally, cardinals feature a black facial mask which is absent in blue jays; instead, blue jays have darker patches around the eyes. 

All these features make it easy to recognize these two vibrant feathered friends with a single glance.

5. Gender Identification

Blue jays and cardinals are two of the most recognizable birds in North America. Though they are similar in size and coloration, there are significant differences in their gender identification requirements.

Blue jays can easily be identified based on their crest; a male will have a thick prominent crest while on a female, it is less well-defined. 

Cardinals are more difficult as both genders have red feathers with darker markings and subtle hues around the neck and wings. The only detectable difference between males and females is that the male has a black patch on its beak, whereas the female does not. 

While the differences may appear slight to humans, these details allow blue jays and cardinals to quickly identify each other by gender for courtship or protection of their territory.

6. Habitat

The blue jay and the cardinal are two of the most colorful birds that may be found in many suburban locations, but they have very different habitats. The blue jay prefers to live among deciduous forests, particularly oak trees. 

Because of this, the blue jay is an excellent predictor of changing weather patterns. On the other hand, cardinals are just as at home in wooded areas as they are in urban parks and gardens. 

They seek out thick underbrush and heavy vegetation to provide protection from predators, often nesting near sheds or along fences. As a result of these differences, though similar in appearance, the blue jay and cardinal lead very different lives outside our windows.

7. Mating Behaviour

Blue Jays and Cardinals are two birds commonly found in North America that share similarities in size and vocal behavior. However, when it comes to mating, these two birds display distinct differences. 

Blue Jays breed multiple times throughout the year and often form monogamous pairs to raise their chicks together, while Cardinals usually only breed once annually and prefer to stay alone during mating season. 

Moreover, Females of both species are noticeably different in their choice of mates: Blue Jay females typically select males based on colorful plumage, whereas a female Cardinal will place more emphasis on the male’s song ability. 

It’s clear that despite some common grounds between the two species, they have variously adapted to ensure the success of the next generation, from mating to parenting.

8. Nesting

Bluejays and cardinals are incredibly unique birds. Both species can be easily identified not only by their colors but also by their nesting preferences.

Blue jays are known for constructing a nest in the upper third of a tall tree, while cardinals prefer a much lower-lying spot on the side or lower part of the tree branch. 

In terms of materials used to craft their homes, blue jays often rely on twigs and bark, while cardinals rely on things like grass and pine needles.

While subtle in differences, these distinctions show just how diverse bird populations can be as well as provide insight into the ever-important art of nest building.

9. Eggs

While blue jays and cardinals are both beautiful birds of North America, the two species have a few differences that set them apart from each other.

Blue jays are more likely to be found in areas with more trees and brush, while cardinals tend to prefer open lawns or backyards. 

Blue jays also build their nests with twigs and smaller branches, while cardinals use finer materials such as grasses and plant fibers.

Another difference between blue jay eggs and cardinal eggs is that the latter usually produce only one set of young per year compared to the multiple sets of 3-8 that blue jay may lay. 

While they differ in some aspects, it is easy to appreciate both of these remarkable creatures for their striking colors, iconic songs, and overall admiration they bring when spotted flying through the air or singing away in the treetops.

10. Migration

While both blue jays and cardinals boast serene and colorful plumage, there are important differences between these two beloved backyard birds. Most notably, blue jays are migratory creatures. 

They travel long distances twice a year from their northern homes in the summer to get away from the cold winter months, whereas cardinals take part in short-distance movements over a much broader range of habitats. 

Compared to the solitary cardinal, blue jays also tend to form flocks and migrate in larger numbers for better protection. Although their motivations for migration differ greatly, both birds rely on their keen instincts and vibrant colors when traveling cross-country.

11. Physical Appearance of the Juvenile Stage

Juvenile blue jays and cardinals have a number of physical differences that make them easy to tell apart, even by beginner bird watchers.

The first clue is the color; juvenile blue jays tend to be a uniform grey with a hint of bluish hues across their back and have pale yellow under tail coverts. 

Cardinal juveniles on the other hand, are more reddish-brown than adult males and sport dark brown speckles across their wings.

Blue Jay juveniles also have distinctive black markings around the throat area, similar to those of an adult blue jay, although they are not as defined. 

Cardinal juveniles do not have these black markings and instead have streaks underneath their tail feathers like an adult male cardinal.

These physical appearance differences between juvenile blue jays and cardinals should help to distinguish between the two species while bird watching.

12. Feed

Blue jays and cardinals are two of the most common birds found in North America, but there is a noticeable difference between their respective diets.

Cardinals are primarily granivorous, consuming a variety of seeds, including sunflower and millet, while blue jays are more omnivorous and will eat both insects and grains. 

As such, cardinals require feeders that dispense large amounts of seeds, while blue jays benefit from a mixture of different food sources suitable for both types of offerings.

Additionally, cardinals may display territorial behavior around their feeders, so careful placement to avoid any conflict is sometimes required. 

The distinct feeding differences between cardinals and bluejays add an interesting challenge for bird watchers attempting to attract both species to their yards!

13. Ways to find them

Although blue jays and cardinals have similarities, they possess distinct features that set the two species apart.

For example, blue jays have a crest atop their heads, unlike any other bird in the area, making them easy to spot. In addition, blue jays are loud and possess an impressive vocal range. 

Contrastingly, cardinals sport a deep red feathering, as well as a unique “mask” that helps identify the species quickly. Its song is chirpy and melodic; its sound is immediately recognizable to those who know it. 

While there are many ways to differentiate between the two birds, some of the most notable differences include their vibrant coloring and cheerful singing habits.

Blue Jays and northern cardinals: are they friends or foes?

Blue Jay

Blue Jays and northern cardinals are often seen in the same areas, but their relationship can be complicated.

For instance, while Blue Jays may grab insects off of shrubs to feed on them, cardinals will come to eat those insects as well, competing with Blues Jays for a food source. 

However, Blue Jays sometimes store nuts and berries, and when they do so, cardinals often take advantage of this supply by taking what the jays have gathered.

This creates a seemingly antagonistic relationship between the two species, with jays protecting their food and cardinals taking it away. 

Ultimately though, both species do benefit from living in close quarters as they share an overlapping diet that provides nourishment for each animal. Whether friends or foes, Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals definitely have an interesting interaction.

Are Blue Jays aggressive towards cardinals?

While bluejays and cardinals are both beautiful birds, they often don’t get along well in the wild due to their different personalities.

Blue jays tend to be more aggressive than cardinals, and most of the time, they will take the opportunity to chase away their smaller competitors when food or territory is scarce. 

To avoid any potential problems, it’s best to keep these two species separate as much as possible. For example, if you want to attract both blue jays and cardinals to your backyard, then it’s important not to position them too close together.

Which is more aggressive – the Blue Jay or the Northern Cardinal?


When it comes to aggression between birds, the Blue Jay and the Northern Cardinal stand out. While both species can become territorial when claiming their space, the Blue Jay typically comes off as more dominant and aggressive. 

During mating season, they are especially known for attacking other birds that happen to wander onto their turf, this can include competing males or unsuspecting individuals of various species.

The Northern Cardinal, while they may not be quite as confrontational as the Blue Jay, can still make daring approaches to protect its food and territory from any potential predators. 

When threatened by another bird, the Northern Cardinal won’t hesitate to put up a fight first and ask questions later.

All things considered, it seems undeniable that the Blue Jay is most prominently known for its aggression among possible rivals.

Are Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals related?

The short answer to the question of whether blue jays and northern cardinals are related is “no”.

Although both birds are part of the same family, they are actually not closely related. The blue jay is a member of the Corvidae family, while the northern cardinal belongs to the Cardinalidae family with its own specific genus. 

However, both species have many similarities. They can be found in North America and share similar diets of insects, seeds, nuts and fruits.

Additionally, their colorful plumage is common among members of the Corvidae family; some estimates suggest that up to 70 percent of North American birds are brightly colored. 

While these two species do not share a close bond in terms of genealogy, they exhibit enough similarities to create a more general kinship between them.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about bluejays and cardinals are common as both of these beautiful birds can often be seen in our gardens. Understanding these birds’ behavior, size, diet and habitat can help you appreciate them even more. 

Blue jays are larger than cardinals with a bright blue black and white chest. Their varied ‘jay’ call is quite loud compared to the robber being made by cardinals which have red feathers.

Both birds tend to feed on seeds, fruits and sometimes insects found among trees or in your garden. 

Since they share similar habitats, nesting sites can be close together, making it easy to observe them picking through the same nuts or peanuts you may have put out for them!

What is the difference between a cardinal and a blue jay?

Cardinals and blue jays may look similar, with their bright colors and beautiful feathered wings, but there are some significant differences between the two.

Cardinals are known for having bright red feathers that resemble a suit worn by cardinals in the Catholic Church, while blue jays have more of a greyish-blue hue to their feathers. 

Cardinals can also be distinguished by their pointed crests on top of their heads, while blue jays have rounder crests.

When it comes to size and diet, cardinals tend to be smaller than bluejays, with less of an appetite for insects and more a preference for sunflower seeds and fruits. 

Blue Jays, on the other hand, are larger birds that eat basically anything they come across! So if you’re trying to determine which kind of bird you’ve spotted in your backyard, remember cardinal red = church attire; smooth crest = blue jay.

Can a cardinal mate with a blue jay?

It is fascinating to consider the possibility that a cardinal and a blue jay could be compatible enough to produce offspring. While hybridization does occur in many bird species, this particular combination would be truly unique. 

Any hybrid offspring from this mating would likely have the appearance of its parents but fall far short of the beauty achieved by either.

It is not impossible, however, that this union might create an entirely new species of songbird if both parents were willing to accept one another as mates. 

Whether such a pairing is possible remains unknown, but it certainly presents an intriguing thought exercise for nature lovers everywhere!

Are cardinals afraid of bluejays?

Many people assume that cardinals are intimidated by bluejays due to their larger size and loud calls, but studies have suggested that this is not the case.

In fact, as primarily ground-feeding birds, cardinals often ignore aggressive encounters with bluejays while they search for food on the forest floor. 

Instead of acting out of fear or submission, cardinals appear to understand their place in the artificial pecking order and prefer not to risk engaging in a conflict with the aggressive bluejay, given its lack of benefit versus potential cost. 

This cautious behavior does not necessarily mean that cardinals are afraid of bluejays, instead, it implies a level of intelligence and understanding about the situation that other birds might lack.

Which bird is the bigger cardinal or blue jay?

Cardinals and Blue Jays are both extraordinarily large songbirds, but there are a few differences between the two species.

The cardinal, known for its bright red plumage, is typically a bit larger, with a body length of 7 to 9 inches and a wingspan up to 12 inches. 

By comparison, the blue jay has an average body length of 8.3 inches and a wingspan ranging from 11.8 to 15.7 inches.

While it may seem that the blue jay has the size advantage here, the cardinal has characteristics that make it appear deceptively larger when standing side-by-side with a blue jay. 

Final words

Though both the blue jay and cardinal are stunning examples of North American birds, they have many differences.

If you’re hoping to attract either of these feathered friends to your backyard bird feeder, understanding these behavioral quirks is critical. 

Cardinals tend to be more social, while blue jays are more independent, so plan your bird feeder strategy accordingly! And though cardinals will eat just about anything, blue jays prefer peanuts,  so keep that in mind when stocking your feeders as well. 

Attracting wildlife to your yard can be a fun and rewarding hobby. We hope this guide was helpful in getting you started on learning about two of North America’s most popular backyard birds: the blue jay and the cardinal!

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