Tag Archives: Blue Jay

Learning To Love Blue Jays

The Intelligent Hoarder

Today was very cold and windy, the temperature barely made 20° F.  Taking wind chill factor in to account, it was close to 0° F.  This is the time the birds need us the most.  There’s hardly any food around, water turns to solid ice and the wind factor is over 40 miles per hour, so we provide them with food, warm water and shelter.  They congregate outside our patio door and enjoy food and heated birdbaths near by.  Once in awhile they would burst away in all directions and the quiet chill descends on the yard.  It’s an indication of a hawk patrol, looking for food as well.  Our yard becomes a hawk deli.

They also scatter away to nearby bushes and trees when I sprint out the door chasing squirrels and Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura).  Another time is when I knock on the glass door chasing away House sparrows (Passer domestics).  I tolerate squirrels to a certain degree but not the Mourning doves and House sparrows.  The last two don’t do much of anything aside being a pest.  I won’t let them feel comfortable in our garden so they don’t nest here, eat my seedlings and terrorize other birds.

Speaking of terrorizing other birds, the Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) rank at the top of the list.  They steal other bird’s eggs and eat their chicks if they have a chance.  I once witnessed a Blue jay attack and carry off a Bluebird chick that left the nest box too early.  But, the Blue Jays also eat other animals that are small enough: mouse, mole, and snake.

Beautiful, intelligent Blue Jay
Beautiful, intelligent Blue Jay

Blue Jays are highly intelligent and territorial.  Most of the time they just zoom in to the feeder but many times they would make a loud alarm call that will cause other birds to scatter away.  I first thought they feared the Blue jay but after observing them for many seasons I realized that it’s the same warning sound as when a hawk is around. They make the exact sound, though there’s not a hawk in sight, to fool other birds to go away and hide.  After the birds realized that it was a trick, they came back but by then the Blue Jays have already occupied comfortable positions at the feeders.

They learn to work the weight sensitive feeder too. They would land lightly on the bar, flipping their wings to keep their weight off so the feeder won't close completely
They learn to work the weight sensitive feeder too. They would land lightly on the bar, flipping their wings to keep their weight off so the feeder won’t close completely
Tossing one in
Tossing one in
Then packing what they can to stash away
Then packing what they can to stash away

Blue Jays are also hoarders.  They will pack as many as they can between their beaks each time after they ate.  They bring food back to wherever they stash away for the future.  During the breeding season, due to their territorial behavior, they will chase away squirrels, hawks and crows that come in the neighborhood.  It helps to increase survival chances for smaller bird’s chicks.

After balancing their good and bad habits, I let them be.  They have beautiful feathers anyway.  I only chase them when they take too long at the feeders while other birds wait patiently for their turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brutally Cold Winter

And A Busy Yard

Winter hit us very hard this year.  We already have more than two feet of snow on the ground and, as I’m writing this blog, it’s snowing outside.  The temperature has also dropped down below zero for a couple of nights and hanging below 20ºF most days.  As much as it is harsh for us, it’s much more difficult for our winged friends.  We depend on them to handle garden pest control and they have been doing a great job.  It’s only fair for us to provide some comfort for them when food and fresh water is hard to find.

Since we provide food, water and roosting places, when the winter gets really bad our yard gets very busy.  This year is even busier since the Pine Siskin are here.  They would come around once every few years when their food is hard to find in the sub-arctic boreal area.  There are so many of them that we have to fill the main feeders in the garden three times a week in order to keep up with their appetite.

We leave the feeders in the garden but remove the ones on the patio every evening so as not to draw in skunks and raccoons.   Every morning I see the birds line up on the fence waiting for us to put the feeders back.  It’s a wonderful sight.

A male American Goldfinch
A male American Goldfinch

I wonder if this male American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) knows something that I don’t.  He’s starting to molt and getting his black patch on the head back.  The male Finch shed their winter down when spring comes and turn bright canary yellow in summer.  Several of the finches have developed some bright color and black head patches now.  Either they are fooled by the temperature swing or spring is just around the corner.

Shared feeder
Shared feeder

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus), American Goldfinch, Eastern Bluebird and Black-capped chickadee sharing a feeder.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) are not just feeding, they also pack seeds and hide them
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Puffed up Dark-eyed Junco
Male Downy woodpecker
Male Downy woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker

We have plenty of Downy woodpeckers (Picoides pubesceus) and they are not as wary of us as the other woodpeckers.  The Red-bellied and Northern flicker woodpecker are very camera shy.  The Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) have never come to the feeder.  The one above was pecking on the maple tree in the front yard.

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird

These five Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were waiting for their turn at the feeder.  We see them more and more in winter.  We assume that either we have plenty of food and shelter to offer or they were born here and feel comfortable being in the yard instead of migrating south.  By religiously monitoring the nest boxes, we managed to raise one to two broods every year.

Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) are back this year, plenty of them
Female Northern cardinal
Female Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal
Male Northern cardinal

Nothing wrong with this male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  It was so cold that he alternately tucked one foot in while feeding.  Many of the birds either do this or just sit on both legs to keep them warm like the Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) below.

Song sparrow
Song sparrow
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee
House finch, Pine siskin, Black-capped chickadee

House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) waiting his turn while a Pine siskin defends his space from a landing Chickadee.

Some photos are not much in focus since they were taken through two panes of glass.  Sitting in the blind wasn’t an option when the temperature was below 20ºF.

 

 

 

 

From an Icy Rain To Snow

It’s a Time to Care For Friends

We’ve been having a roller coaster weather this year and December temperature around here rages from 60º F to 18º F which is a pretty wide gap.  We had icy rain yesterday and snow today, haven’t seen the sun in the last couple of days.  Weather like this raise my concern for my avian friends in the neighborhood.  As much as they are descendants of Dinosaurs but they probably have a hard time adapt to drastically changes of the environment; evolution takes time.  One day is so warm, the next day everything freeze.  Food are harder find at this time of year and even harder when the weather is unpredictable.

I put all the birdhouses up this year so they can have warm places to roost during the frigid cold nights.  Neighborhood pet food store loves us during this time of year because we buy a variety of twenty five or fifty pound-bags of bird food monthly, plus a case or two of suet cakes.  We just want to make sure that our feathered neighbors are well cared for.  I think the Tufted Titmouse and Chickadee keep their eyes on us since they’re always the first two groups that get to the feeders every time we refill them.

So far I’ve seen just the neighborhood birds that stay here year round like Northern Cardinal, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, Red-bellied woodpecker, Downy woodpecker, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Nuthatch and the pesky House Sparrow.  I haven’t seen any visitors like Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) or Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) yet.  The neighborhood population control officer, a Cooper’s Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk, are also on regular patrol this time of year.

Today, the population is more condensed in the garden as the snow has been falling since early morning.  They have learned that we are dependable at this time of year for food and water, so our garden becomes a gathering place during harsh weather.  Here are some of them….

A daring Blue Jay swooped pass me to the feeder a couple of feet away.
A daring Blue Jay swooped pass me to the feeder a couple of feet away.
A male Northern Cardinal enjoys fresh water and warm air raising from the heated bird bath
A male Northern Cardinal enjoys fresh water and warm air raising from the heated bird bath
Female Northern Cardinal waits patiently on a rose branch for her turn at the feeder
Female Northern Cardinal waits patiently on a rose branch for her turn at the feeder
Black-capped Chickadee taking cover in a rose bush
Black-capped Chickadee taking cover in a rose bush
A male Red-bellied woodpecker waiting for his turn at the suet
A male Red-bellied woodpecker waiting for his turn at the suet
A male House finch on an ice-covered rose branch
A male House finch on an ice-covered rose branch

Truce Among Birds

Making Peace For Their Survival

After we finished preparing our beehives for the winter, putting a cold frame over the winter vegetable plot and cleaning up most of the leaves it’s time to focus on our avian pals.  We don’t feed them in summer because we don’t want them to depend on us completely for their survival and we want them to have some incentive for pest control in the garden.  But when insects die out or hibernate underground and flower seeds and fruits wane, it’s time for us to return the favor.  It’s only fair.  We’ve been carrying on a symbiotic relationship since I started gardening.

Late autumn and winter is also the time the birds make a truce with one another for their own survival.  The territorial line is diminished, no need to defend a non-existence.  No female to impress, no kids to protect…they only need food, water, shelter and to avoid becoming food themselves.

Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals
Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals

Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) will steal other birds eggs or chicks during breeding season so other birds never let them get close.  Still, small birds depend on Blue Jays to give them warning when there is a hawk around.  Blue Jays sometimes even gang up on a hawk.  But at this time of year smaller birds seem to welcome the company of Blue Jays.

 Four Northern Cardinals wait their turn for the feeder
Four Northern Cardinals wait their turn for the feeder

Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), especially the males, are very territorial during mating season.  I’ve seen them chase one another in the garden far too many times.  In winter, however, both males and females stay together in a flock.  One year, our Forsythia bush lit up with twelve male Cardinals looking like Christmas ornaments in the snow.  Three females and one male, above, were waiting for their turn at the feeder.

A Blue Jay puffs up against the wind
A Blue Jay puffs up against the wind
A Tufted Titmouse enjoying probably the only bird hot spa in the neighborhood (electrically heated)
A Tufted Titmouse enjoying probably the only bird hot spa in the neighborhood (electrically heated)

View more backyard bird images at photo blog Amazing Seasons