Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Aw, Nuts

Proof positive that western scrub jays are persistent birds: all summer, one particular jay has tried -- and been frustrated at his failure -- to cache a peanut in a small tree in the backyard. Frequently he'd try to position a nut correctly, only to watch it fall to the grass below, at which time he'd glare at it for a moment before retrieving it to hide in an easier location.

This week, however, his persistence paid off and for a few hours, one small nut was firmly wedged among the narrow branches and fluttering leaves. It took several minutes of hopping about the top of the tree and pounding on the nut to keep it steady, but he accomplished the feat. It is not his fault, certainly, that the first windstorm of autumn relocated the nut later that evening.

Watching the jays cache their nuts is fascinating. They will meticulously hide the nut among grasses, mulch, weeds, or other debris, even to the point of picking up stray pieces of grass or bark to cover it. They manage to hide them so effectively that even if I approach the area moments later, it can be difficult if not impossible to find the nut. Other jays, however, are more skilled at finding the nuts, and often I've watched one follow a sibling moments later to unearth what the first has just cached, usually amid much squawking and arguing.

At this point, there must be hundreds of peanuts hidden around the neighborhood lawns, flowerbeds, and indeed, even trees. Having watched these antics, we all know who to blame -- after all, I keep putting peanuts out each morning.

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