Thursday, May 04, 2006

One Smart Jay

I noticed a lone Blue Jay this morning doing something peculiar. S/he would peck at the ground a few times, then fly up to a low-hanging limb of the maple and appeared to lay something down, then pick it up and fly to a smaller branch suitable for opening seeds like sunflowers. My binoculars revealed that he would pick up three or four sunflower seeds, lay them out in a neat row on top of the broader branch then take them one by one to the smaller branch to open and consume them. I watched him do this trick a number of times before a crowd of Grackles chased him away.

I knew that Corvids (Ravens, Crows, Magpies and Jays) were smart, but I thought that most of the smarts had been given to the bigger birds. It seems that my Jay may have gotten more than his share!

I had previously noticed a Chickadee do something similar. It would pick up two of the black sunflower seeds, then appeared to be searching for something in the tree, flying from branch to branch. I had observed them do this before, searching for a suitable twig for opening such seeds, but this one was examining only larger branches. It finally found a branch with a crevice into which it stashed one seed while it flew off to open the other. It then returned to reclaim the stashed seed.

Chickadees and some other birds do hide seeds in bark crevices for later use, especially in Winter. I see the above performance as a simple modification of that behavior.

But the Jay's trick was uniquely clever.

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