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by Stan Tekiela
December 18, 2017
Off in the distances I can hear the familiar scream-like call of a Blue Jay. The sound pierces through the yellow and orange autumn maple leaves on a crisp blue sky day. I sit enjoying the sunshine, calm winds and the smell of autumn in the air.
Again, I hear the Blue Jay cry, this time a bit closer. Knowing the biology of these birds, I understand it won't be just one bird traveling alone. No, it will be a family of Blue Jays. Often two mated adult birds and several juvenile birds. Funny thing is, the Blue Jays all look exactly the same. They act the same and sound the same, so it's impossible to tell them apart.
Looking around I can't help but to notice all the other critters prepping for winter. Gray Squirrels are busy collecting and burying nuts and seeds. Chipmunks are stuffing their cheeks full of seeds to transport back to their underground storage chambers to eat later when snow blankets the land. Each evening my family of flying squirrels zips in out of the darkness and stock up on all the peanuts I put out for them.
After the flying squirrels land they race around grabbing one nut at a time. They are so small they can't carry more than one peanut at a time. The run up my 80 foot tall oak tree like a bolt of lightning stopping only momentarily to launch themselves off into the dark night sky. Often times they fly over the top of my house, landing in the tall oaks in my backyard. I spend a lot of time watching and studying my flying squirrels.
While my mind drifts to thinking about my flying squirrels, the family of Blue Jays flies nearby and announces their arrival with a different call. This call is a pitch perfect imitation call of a Cooper's Hawk which send all the smaller birds in the area fleeing in fear of their lives. If I didn't see the Blue Jays I would have thought a Cooper's Hawk was giving this call. But no, it was just the Blue Jays. What a remarkable bird I thought to myself.
Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are a common bird of the eastern and central part of the country. They are so common I think they often go unnoticed by the average person. But did you know they are some of the smartest birds. They are closely related to the crows and ravens. They form a complex social system with families staying together over long periods of time. The young from last year often help raise the young from this year.
Blue Jays are credited with helping to quickly spread the growing range of oak trees after the last glacial period. The jays propensity for acorns and their habit of burring acorns for later consumption has lead to the expansion of many species of oak tree. Recent studies show that Blue Jays carry acorns further away from the parent tree than squirrels and chipmunks.
Different studies show that Blue Jays remember where they hide hundreds of acorns and retrieve a surprisingly high number of these buried nuts. The small percentage of unfounded acorns of course spout and produce new oak trees.
It was always believed that Blue Jays didn't migrate. However thousands are seen migrating in small family units and small flocks along the upper Great Lakes each autumn. I have seen it time and time again myself. However where these birds are going is still unknown. In some smaller studies it seems that some birds will migrate in some years and not in other years. No one seems to know what is going on with the migrating jays, showing us yet again we really don't understand nature at all. Until next time...
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
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