Sunday, September 7, 2008

Jammin' About Jays

One of my very favorite bird species is also a very colorful backyard visitor: western scrub jays. Not only is their bright blue plumage with gray markings a vibrant addition to the backyard rainbow, but their stubborn and insistent personalities add colorful comedy to the regular interactions of all the species who regularly dine at my feeders.

Take this year's scrub jay family, for example. One has a rather noticeable white spot on its crown and is absolutely bold, not minding to come within inches of me as he seeks a favorite treat. Another, with a beak rather thicker than his cohorts, has a raucous call several decibels above what you'd normally hear in the backyard. Another has scruffier plumage and tends to be more reticent about approaching a feeder, particularly when a sibling is present. Each of these birds interacts in a characteristic way, often chasing one another or slyly secreting their cache in one spot while a sibling cleverly pilfers another cache recently stowed.

And their preferred foods? Peanuts, of course. Whole, in the shell nuts never last long in the small terra cotta dish I've dedicated as a peanut feeder. I buy a new bag of nuts (mine are roasted and salted as being the least expensive and most readily available, and they certainly don't mind) nearly every week, but if they aren't out on the table in the early morning or late afternoon I will certainly hear about it with screeches and angry calls. They're also apt to call if there aren't enough peanuts in the dish, though when a half dozen or more jays are scrambling to claim their share of the bounty, even a large handful doesn't last long. If the peanuts are not forthcoming, seeds from the platform feeder will do, but I've learned just how favored peanuts truly are -- once, seeing a scrub jay scrabbling around in the feeder to load up on seeds, I hurried to put out a handful of peanuts. He was grateful, and indeed he flew right over to the patio table to choose a choice nut. Before selecting a nut, however, he bent over and spit out all the seeds he'd just taken from the feeder, squawked at me (a reprimand for not having peanuts available in the first place?), and flew off with a nut. I guess jays don't have the best table manners.

One cannot doubt their intelligence, however. The jays that frequent my backyard have learned to recognize me and they're also familiar with the peanut replenishment schedule. If I'm out on the patio - usually typing away - and there are not peanuts to be had, one will land on the gutter and softly "murp" at me to remind me that they're not the most patient of birds. I, of course, oblige, proving that I'm perfectly trained and a capable protector of peanuts for a flock of hungry jays.
I wouldn't have it any other way.

1 comment:

Christina- said...

Ah I love it! :) Jays really are very intelligent. I believe they are related to crows and other corvids that have proved VERY intelligent. (Have you see the footage of crows using traffic to break open nuts at a crosswalk?)