Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Blue Jays Cashing in on Caches to Survive

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Blue Jays Cashing in on Caches to Survive

Article excerpt

Caching. Lots of birds do it - titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, crows. But nobody does it better than blue jays. Hoarding food against wicked winters helps many animals survive, not just birds. Chipmunks, squirrels, mice and others prepare for days when snow covers food and late winter shrinks supplies.

Birds cache seeds: sunflower, safflower, acorns, peanuts, pine nuts, pecans, beechnuts, hickory nuts. I'm betting you've watched busy little chickadees carry off far more seeds in an hour's time than they possibly could eat. They wedge the seeds in the bark of trees, sometimes only for hours, usually for days, stashing mostly during midday.

Titmice tuck peanuts and sunflower and safflower seeds under loose tree bark, beneath house eaves or shingles or maybe in the soil. I've found peanuts stuffed in the grooves that hold our window screens.

Likewise, nuthatches stash a reserve supply of whatever seeds feeders offer.

Birds have amazing memories. So they remember where they've stored those tiny seeds. As a result, caching birds rarely go hungry.

But blue jays? They're masters.

Every day, I drop into a ground-level platform feeder two fistfuls of inthe-shell peanuts and two fistfuls of shelled corn. And every day, shortly after my 8 a.m. foray to the feeder, I hear a jay announce to his kin folks the presence of my presents. And here they come, raucously winging in to collect the bounty.

They love peanuts, but shelled corn permits more efficient hoarding. A jay can carry two or three kernels in his craw, another in his mouth and a fifth in his bill. Then, throat distended, off he goes.

I've watched. He'll drop the five kernels in a pile, beak-dig a hole in the ground and bury each, one by one, several feet apart from one another. It's a furtive process: He watches to be sure he's not being watched. …

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