Back to Back Issues Page
What Are The Jays Doing Now
October 08, 2018
Hi,

(The resident turkey getting a drink.)

October in Michigan.

83 degrees on day, two days later it is 47 degrees harsh winds and a driving rain.

Fluctuation in temperatures.

Furnace, or AC?

Shorts, or jeans?

Several inches of rain have fallen throughout the region.

All the moisture has done a number on the green and ripening tomatoes.

A good 80% of the fruits have split open from over hydration.

I'm not referring to the cracks some fruits get at the shoulder (near the stem).

These cracks, are random.

The skins simply burst, split in any location, as the fruits are bursting with water.

So, I tried my hand at making some 'Green Tomato Relish'.

It is time consuming, but it turned out pretty good for my first attempt.

(October 2nd Hummingbird hard at work.)

Don't let the fruits go to waste.

My last Monarch butterfly was on October 1st.

The last hummingbird spotted was October 2nd, well beyond the average of September 24th.

A blessing indeed, but not totally abnormal.

Stand outside during the dark hours.

If you are blessed, you may hear the calls of migrating birds.

Songbirds and such migrate under the cloak of darkness.

They keep in contact with others by sounding off from time to time.

This way the individual bird keeps in contact and know it is
flying with others, still.

A second wave of American goldfinches are visiting this past week.

I so adore the sounds and calls of hungry and scared fledglings.

Within a few days , they learn how to forage for themselves.

For the past three weeks or so I can sit on the deck (when it isn't raining), look up and watch several Blue jays flying back and forth.

Flying west with something in their bill.

Fly east empty billed.

Acorns.

The birds are busy filling caches with the acorns.

Some years the trees have bumper crops, this is one of those years.

Stealthy Jays, hard at work, carrying one to several acorns.

So I took it upon myself to do some research on other jays.

Here is a truncated version of my research.

Jays and caching.

Enjoy.

Members of the Corvid family (Crow family).

It's understandable that the smartest bird of the suburbs would have the need to whisk away acorns.

The acorn crop is a short-lived bonanza, arriving just before winter food shortages.

Jays glean insects and take nuts and seeds in trees, shrubs, and on the ground; they also eat grains.

They will feed dead and injured small vertebrates.

Jays sometimes raid nests for eggs and nestlings.

Which is why my dad would call Blue jays thieves, (that and he said their call was "Thief, Thief").

I digress.

Come the cooler weather many wildlife species begin to harvest and store as a strategy to prepare them for the oncoming winter, when food supplies are much reduced.

Observing the interesting behaviors of animals as they undertake this critically important task can be a fun, and educational experience.

The food gathering behavior of one specific species -

Blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata):

(Picture to the right, the credit goes to Seatuck Environmental Association.)

It has been on my mind in recent weeks, as I observe these industrious birds flying overhead with a bill and gullet full of acorns.

Notice the distended throat, an indication the bird has stored a few more acorns in its gular sac, a special pouch
in its throat used to store food.

Stashing, or caching food is a vital survival technique used by all jays.

They’re common in urban and suburban areas, especially where oaks or bird feeders are found.

(They are real busy around here right now.)

Eastern Blue jays cover the eastern Two-Thirds of the United states and much of southern Canada.

Carter Johnson and Curtis Adkisson, in their article, Airlifting the Oaks, documented the oak planting abilities of eastern Blue Jays.

They discovered that 50 jays transported and cached 150,000 acorns in 28 days, about 110 acorns per day for each bird.

Enough to plant a whole forest if left to sprout.

Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri):

I'm sorry, I don't have pictures of the other jays mentioned.

(pictured is a young Goldfinch gleaning from a Liatris (purple Gay feather), seed stalk.

This Jay can be found in the mountainous regions from southern Alaska, thru Canada, America, into Mexico and part of Latin America.

Along the Pacific northwest, into California.

These birds Cache food such as acorns by pushing them into crevices in ground or in bark of trees, loosens soil with bill, sometimes digs small hole, inserts food item in hole, covers hole with soil or vegetation with bill.

Large seeds of piñon and whitebark pine may be transported more than 1.5 miles (about 3 km), and are cached mostly as single seeds.

Jays locate their own caches using spatial memory and pilfer the caches made by other birds and mammals by observing others cache and remembering the location

Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica):

(Stub tail squirrels are back.)

Also known as the California scrub jay lives all along the pacific coast states and lower Canada along the Pacific coast.

A single scrub jay will cache as many a 6,000 acorns.

They will carry acorns up to a mile and a half, hiding them in widely distributed caches of 1-3 acorns per cache.

The bird memorizes the locations of each cache, that of any other caches it sees other birds store, and will move its own caches if it knows it has been observed making its own cache.

Over time, some of these caches will be forgotten and some of those will sprout.

If left alone, a new tree is born.

Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens):

(October 2nd, hummingbird closeup.)

The only avian species entirely restricted to Florida.

On average, each cached between 6500 and 8000 acorns during fall.

Only about one-third of those acorns were recovered later.

Because of the continued destruction of Scrub oak for orchards, and continued development, it becomes a challenge for the Florida scrub-jay.

And thanks to these birds, Scrub oak will continue to pop up.

(A juvenile cardinal, you can tell by the gray bill and legs.)

Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis):

The Canada Gray jay (Gray jay) is a widespread resident of North America's boreal and sub-alpine coniferous forests.

Living in harsh conditions much of the year, Canada jays are forever hunting and caching food.

However, these birds aren't capable of cracking open conifer seeds (pine nuts), and acorns.

Gray jays instead, cache perishable food items into cracks in tree bark during the summer and autumn months.

In fact, Canada jays are the only bird species that we know about that routinely cache large amounts of perishable food items for long periods of time.

Items like insects, picnic items, and carrion.

Contrary to what you might think, these birds are not merely caching food so they can survive harsh winters

Gray jays nest and raise their chicks in the dead of winter, too.

Canada's Gray jays scatter hoard and recover the seemingly perishable food items they fastened in trees under bark scales, and lichens with the assistance of copious sticky saliva from enlarged salivary glands.

The only jay that caches in trees, never burying its food as other jays will.

(Dad was close by as youngster was pleading its case.)

Pinyon jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus):

Pinon jays inhabit much of the mountains and desert southwest of the United States (look for Pinyon-Juniper woodlands).

Pinyon Jays as the name refers, rely heavily on the seeds of the Pinyon pine.

Similar to those fatty and high calorie pine nuts available at supermarkets, Pinyon nuts are cached to eat later in the season.

Instead of carrying seeds one at a time to a caching site, their expandable esophagus lets them carry about 40 seeds in one go.

They fill up on seeds and fly with throats bulging to a caching site.

In a good year, one Pinyon jay may store in the ground approximately 2,600 pine seeds.

Individual jays can remember where they cached approximately 95 percent of their pinyon seeds

Caching isn’t as straight forward as it might appear.

A bird must not only fly back and forth, one or a few seeds at a time, over hundreds of trips.

They also have to make sure the caches aren’t stolen and remember where all the food is has been stashed when hunger comes a-calling.

Pinyon jay populations have declined over the years.

(pollinators are still busy.)

Species in 15 bird families cache food.

So next time you’re watching your birds, keep an eye out for these expert strategists.

University of California researchers Mike Morrison and Bill Block suggest that the 300 wildlife species using oak woodlands provide many benefits in return, such as pest control and soil amendment.

Acorn production costs oak trees a lot of energy; however, the return in acorn transportation and planting by birds probably balances the energy lost.

It is often difficult to describe the interdependence of wildlife and plants.

There can be no doubt about the reciprocal benefits enjoyed by oaks, pines and other plant life, and the various species of jays.

An unintended but unsurprising result of all this acorn caching are the growth of individual oak trees and the spread of oak forests.

We owe a lot to the industrious Jays.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

"Tears are the silent language of grief".

Voltaire

From the Bible.

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors,

We borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb.

A Blessed week to you .

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson



PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.



Gardening For Wildlife.


























Back to Back Issues Page