About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

War between squirrels and jays

It’s the weekend so I put whole peanuts out in my feeder as a treat for the Blue Jays and Squirrels and I had a wonderful day! I watched a couple of my jays load up their expanding throat with at least 3 nuts at a time after they carefully weighed each one to find the heaviest. Then they hid a couple of the peanuts in the flower beds, covered them carefully with fallen leaves and went up to eat the last nut in the tree. 

Some new squirrels also tried to get their share of the nut bounty and “bury” them (tap, tap, tap…good enough) in the grass. The more experienced squirrels took a peanut, pretended to hide it, pretended to hide it again and then when they thought no one is looking, really hid it. At first I couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t decide where to hide the nut until I saw a jay following the less experienced squirrels to steal their tap, tap, tap…good enough nuts!

I’m new to bird feeding. This is my first fall bird watching and I am learning so much from your blog. Is this normal behavior? ~ Ada, Michigan
This is classic fall Blue Jay and Squirrel behavior! You’ve described the situation beautifully!

In the fall jays get the urge to gather as much food as they can find and squirrel it away before winter hits, just like the squirrels. Their favorite food to cache or hide to retrieve and eat at a later time in the wild is acorns, beechnuts and other assorted tree nuts. At the feeders jays like to take sunflower seeds, whole corn and peanuts in the shell to cache.

A single blue jay can cache as many as 5,000 acorns up to 2.5 miles from their original source and retrieve them when needed. They can do this by carrying several nuts at one time in their expanding esophagus.

The esophagus is a tube that connects the mouth and the stomach. It can also help store food for a short time through a temporary distension for certain birds like the nut eating Blue Jays, fruit eating Cedar Waxwings, fish-eating species and birds of prey.
Sometimes perceived as a bully bird, other birds may actually like them because they can cue in to a jay's alert when you fill a feeder or their alarm calls when there is a predator nearby. Blue Jays can make a large variety of sounds. There is also a high-pitched jayer-jayer call that increases in speed that the jays use to call a band together to mob potential predators such as hawks and drive them away from the area.

Blue jays also form long-lasting, monogamous pair bonds. These bonds usually last until one of the pair dies. If you look up high in an evergreen tree you might see an old jay’s loose and untidy nests of barks, twigs, leaves, and grasses.

Both males and females care for their young and they travel and forage together as a family until early fall, when the young disperse to avoid competition for food during the winter. We have Blue Jays year-round in Michigan, although some may decide to migrate further south. To date, no one has worked out why some jays migrate and some stay year-round.

Blue jays have been recorded to live for more than 26 years in captivity and one wild jay was found to have been around over 17 years. The more common lifespan for adult jays in the wild is around 7 years.

Their name “Jay” has its origins from the Latin “gaius” meaning “gay or merry” and your observations made me think that their name is a good fit. I’m taking some peanuts home tonight for my feeder!

Thank for your quick response and all the new information. My husband came in to kitchen today after a football game to see what I was laughing about and I pointed to a jay who was burying a peanut in grass. My husband said, "Look! He's covering it with a stick!" I just rolled my eyes. I've only told him about this countless times, but the first time he sees it he acts like it was his discovery.
Watch the funny squirrel vs blue jay video: http://youtu.be/3FymLp0F1Qg

Related Articles:
- Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/w4vRPP
- Blue Jays aren't blue http://bit.ly/roVPVX
- What Feeder Do You Recommend for Blue Jays? http://bit.ly/txd8ja
- Blue Jay Fun Facts http://goo.gl/wJgMmJ
- Do birds know winter is coming? http://goo.gl/EilIa6
- Why Blue Jays go bald in the fall http://goo.gl/gAX3x 

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