Versatile blue jays display cleverness

Posted Nov. 19, 2008, at 6:33 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:54 a.m.

One day, Hope Brogunier was sitting on a bench in her Bangor yard watching a group of blue jays bathing in a birdbath. The blue jays would get in the birdbath and vibrate their wings in the water, causing droplets to fly all around the bird.

Several blue jays kept alternating turns at the birdbath; sometimes one would chase another off the birdbath. This was action enough to hold Hope’s attention for quite a while.

Suddenly all the jays started up a ruckus, calling out that brassy call of “jay, jay, jay” that gives them their name. Hope stood up to see what the matter was. A cat was staring at the birdbath.

The jays were so loud and unremitting that the cat turned around in retreat. One jay pursued the cat relentlessly until the cat ran under the porch.

Then the victorious jay perched on the back of the bench where Hope had been sitting and kept watch over the hole under the porch.

The amused Hope kept on watching this ruckus. After a while, the cat emerged from under the porch. The jays started their screeching once more — and the cat ran under the porch, vanquished.

Jays are amusing, adaptable and clever birds.

When Columbus came across the Atlantic Ocean, blue jays were birds of the Eastern forest of large oak and beech trees. Nuts from these trees were their standard food. Like squirrels, jays buried many acorns, one at a time. Many of those acorns sprouted and became oak trees.

You can see that behavior at the bird feeder. They swallow many sunflower seeds at one visit, caching them somewhere to eat them later.

Blue jays are versatile in their eating and in their habitat, adapting to living in city parks and suburbs and small woodlots since Columbus’ time.

Then, and now, they eat nuts, seeds, berries, fruit, corn, caterpillars, grubs, grasshoppers, other large insects, mice, suet and worms.

In spring and summer, if they spot the nest of a smaller bird, blue jays will snatch and eat the eggs or the baby birds.

Blue jays imitate hawk calls. They make many other sounds, too. And in nesting time, May and June, blue jays occasionally sing a very soft little song. Often when I’m puzzled by some odd birdcall, it turns out to be a blue jay.

In the fall, many blue jays migrate southward, but stay in the eastern United States. In October and November, flocks of jays are seen continually moving south. Some jays also stay in Maine for the winter.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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