Tufted Jay is a large jay with a striking blue, white and black plumage pattern, and a distinct frontal crest. The back and rump, wings, and the base of the tail are deep blue. The stiff tuft of feathers on the forecrown, forming the crest after which this species is named, is black. The crown, sides of the head, and chin and throat are black, interrupted by a bold white arc above the eye, and a larger white patch on the auriculars. The rest of the plumage - rear crown, nape, the underparts, and the distal half of the tail - are bright white. The sexes are similar. Immatures are similar to adults, but the crest is shorter, the white spot above the eye is lacking, and the spot below the eye is smaller than in the adult, and bluish, not white.
There are no similar species in its range. White-tailed Jay (Cyanocorax mystacalis), of western Ecuador and northwestern Peru, is very similar, but has a much shorter crest, white outer rectrices, and a smaller white tip to the tail. Within its range, Tufted Jay may be confused with a poorly seen Black-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta colliei). The magpie-jay, however, has a much longer tail with less extensive white, and has a bluish nape and a longer crest.
The following description is based on Moore (1935), Crossin (1967), and Howell and Webb (1995):
Adult: Feathers of forecrown straight, stiff and erect, forming a crest (ca 3 cm in height); the feathers of the crest are very narrow, and with barbules reduced or lacking. Crest, lores, sides of crown, postocular region, throat and sides of face and neck black. Semilunar supercilary spot white. Large white triangular patch on side of face (enclosed by black), extending from base of mandible to a point below and behind the eye. Rear crown, nape, uppermost back, sides of neck, and breast, belly, and undertail coverts snowy white. Back, rump, wings and basal half of tail deep blue; distal half of rectrices snowy white.
Immature: Similar to the adult, but lacks the white patch above the eye, the patch below the eye is smaller and bluish instead of white, and the crest is shorter (ca 2 cm).
Juvenile: Similar to immature, but upperparts sooty grayish.
Little information. Presumably follows the Complex Basic Molt strategy. The Formative Plumage ("immature" in Detailed Description) is retained until the prebasic molt in the second calendar year (Crossin 1967). The preformative molt presumably is incomplete, but is not described in detail.
Iris: chrome yellow (adult), dark smoky brown (juvenile)
Bill: black (base of mandible flesh in juveniles)
Tarsi and toes: black
Bare parts color data from Crossin (1967) and Madge and Burn (1994).
Total length: 35.5-38 cm (Howell and Webb 1995), 37 cm (Madge and Burn 1994, dos Anjos 2009)
Linear measurements (from Moore 1935):
male (n = 6)
wing length, mean 180.4 mm; tail length, mean 171.3 mm; bill length (from nostril), mean 23.5 mm; tarsus length, mean 45.3 mm
female (n =2 )
wing length, mean 177.1 mm; tail length, mean 164.2 mm; bill length (from nostril), mean 23.2 mm; tarsus length, mean 45.9 mm
Mass: mean 181 g (n = 4, sex undetermined; Dunning 2008)