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Archive for February 17th, 2010

Bandits in Blue

When I step outside in the morning to top up the bird feeders, the Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are waiting for me, watching from the tops of the trees. They seem rather wary and suspicious, considering that they are anticipating my daily offering of redskin peanuts and a handful of peanuts in the shell.

As soon as I have retreated to the house and the coast is clear, the blue raiders swoop in to gather up the bounty. Although there is a loose flock of about 20 birds, they visit the feeder individually or a couple at a time and snatch up the peanuts.

Blue jays don’t usually grab just one seed or nut, but rather load up with all they can carry. Like other members of the corvid family (crows and relatives), they have a throat pouch that they fill up. This allows them to transport a number of seeds or nuts to a safe site to eat or hide away.

In the spring, blue jays will sometimes add the eggs and nestlings of other birds to their diet. They have been aided and abetted in this thuggery by we humans, as fragmented woodlands allow blue jays better access to the nests of woodland breeders.

Blue jays are able to make use of a variety of habitats and have adapted well to changes in the landscape wrought by humans. Their population in southern Ontario, where they are year round residents, has remained pretty stable in recent decades. They are well-known for their raucous cry of “Jay! Jay!”, but they are also adept at mimicking the cry of a hawk. Other vocalizations include a rusty-gate squeak and a melodic whistle.

Oddly enough, these birds who are so noisy much of the year grow silent and secretive during the breeding season. Unlike many songbirds, blue jays do not defend a territory by singing. Instead, they protect just a small area in the immediate vicinity of their nest. Once the young birds leave the nest, however, they acquire the raucous vocal habits of their parents and beg noisily.

Below, the blue jays were joined by a hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus) and they maintained a respectful distance.

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