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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Blue gets visitors

Where we live we have an abundance of life that comes around. Blue has become friendly with another scrub jay we call Mama bird. Squirrels, raccoons, hawks, owls, skunks and a variety of birds all dwell near our house. The squirrels do amazing jumps from one tree to the other. Many Animals come into our small backyard for food. One Squirrel, learned quickly he could reach the seed bells for the birds. As you can see in the video, he has to reach far to grab the hanging bell of seeds. Right after I shot this, he fell as the bell broke free. He was fine, just a little scared and scampered off.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Brought back to the top by popular demand

Blue - the Trance sunbathing with a bonus song and dance!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wild Scrub Jay brings present of thanks?

Another scrub jay has been visiting Blue and me for about six months. It took about a month to get this bird to take a peanut from my hand, then eventually off my head. She became comfortable enough to sit on me until she got two peanuts stuffed in her beak, which could take some time. Often she would just sit and watch me. During the winter she came every day, always in the morning and then often in the evening as well. Then we got Blue to hand her peanuts. We call her Mama bird. Kate was able to hold Blue up with a peanut in his beak and hand it off to the other Scrub three times now. Just as we were getting closer to the bird, and spring was not far off, she disappeared as quickly as she first arrived.

I assume she now has a nest with eggs or chicks. She returned a little more in a hurry then before and not as comfortable as she had been with me. She takes a peanut and leaves for about ten minutes. It used to be 1 min. This is another reason I think she has a nest. She is not hiding these nuts or eating them right away as she often would. She would take a peanut and hide it ten feet away in the ivy, then when she returned to get another while a squirrel would steal the first one. All the while as this repeats, the Scrub is unaware. So are they smart and gullible? No, this instinct is purposeful. The fact that Scrub Jays forget and otherwise loose something like 70% of the nuts they actually eat, they not only feed the squirrels and other animals, but also repopulate the forest.

Yesterday, she came and ate, taking peanuts from my hand. I noticed when she saw me she squawked, and then something happened I will never forget. I see mama bird coming towards the house with something in her beak. She places it at the foot of the sliding glass window to the backyard, right where Blues cage is, it was a dead lizard. On her way out she grabbed a peanut but not before giving us another squawk goodbye.

Everyone who has owned outside cats have found a dead animal present left for them, so this is nothing new to the pet kingdom, but certainly odd for a wild Scrub Jay. I am not sure if this present was intended for Blue or me. However, I think it gave us food because we give it food. Was this a trade – a thank you – a token of… I do not know. This is another reason I have no doubt that these birds plan. How they perceive time, I do not think we will ever know despite all the hubbub about the three day test. Mama bird had a reason for giving us the food.

Just to add to the strange day, Kate witnessed a paid of ducks flying low early in the morning, just as the sun was rising. One crashed into the carport head on. Its mate landed and watched over the stunned bird, which was OK after a rest, and flew away. Most stunned birds will be fine, if left in a quit spot for 5 – 10 minutes -- even after hitting a window. We have had five stunned birds brought to us from kids who live near by. Unable to move, we put them in a dimly lighted or even dark padded box for a few minutes, and they all sprung back to life. Not one died.

If other bird lovers out there have witnessed or experienced a Scrub Jay give food to person, or possibly another bird, please tell me about it – or any other unique behavior of these birds.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Scrub Jays remember the past and plan for future?

I am no scientist. I do know Scrub Jays, which are in the Crow family, are VERY smart. Anyone who has seen the video of the crow dropping nuts so cars run them over and crack them, only to then learn to use the cross walk signals to retrieve their nuts, know birds can think and reason to an extent. In this case, the crow learned how to use a tool, a car, to crack a nut and learned our signals to know when its safe to enter the street to retrieve the nut. If a bird can do that, in my simple mind -- a bird can plan for the future.

I found this article interesting. The study of the Western Scrub Jay's ability to plan and have an understanding of time. Although not all experts agree, it is now an accepted theory.

I have witnessed Blue and his nut hiding abilities for years. If the study did not take into account the season, the weather, and many other factors, I find it hard to believe it was a very accurate study. It only took three days. Read for yourself and let us know what you think about this study. Can Blue plan for the future? Only primates and humans are supposed have this ability, but I never belived that. Dolphins have saved humans from sharks. Dogs have traveled hundreds of miles to find there way home. Maybe we are just too hung up about being above animals to change our persception of how they think. Maybe the are not void of intelect.
Wild Neighbors: Thinking About Breakfast: The Mind of the Jay Revisited
By Joe Eaton

Nicola Clayton and her scrub-jays have been at it again. Clayton, as you may recall, is the Cambridge experimental psychologist who keeps making startling claims about the cognitive abilities of the western scrub-jay, a bird she met while at UC Davis. (It’s the most widespread of three closely related species of crestless blue-and-gray jays; the others, the Florida scrub-jay and island scrub-jay, have limited ranges).
It was Clayton who contended that scrub-jays demonstrated episodic-like memory, thought to be a human exclusive: they could recall what they had done where and when, specifically where they had stashed perishable waxworms and more durable peanuts. In the wild, the birds cache and retrieve acorns. They’re not as good at re-finding stored food as their corvid relatives the pinyon jay and the Clark’s nutcracker; as Joseph Grinnell observed back in 1936, the acorns the scrub-jays miss may become the next generation of oaks.

It was also Clayton who found evidence for a “theory of mind” in scrub-jays, the ability to think of what others might be thinking. In that case, jays prone to pilfering other birds’ caches returned to move food that they had been observed hiding. The line of thought would be: “If I had seen Ralph hiding that acorn, I’d go steal it; and since he saw me hiding mine…”

Critics objected to both claims, of course, but Clayton’s ingenious experiments made a strong case. Now she’s back, in a recent issue of Nature, with a new study that suggests scrub-jays can plan for the future—again, something only the higher primates, humans and great apes, were supposed to be able to do.

Granted, many animals do things that appear purposeful: they fly north for the spring and south for the winter, swim to Ascension to mate, seek out caves or dens for hibernation, store acorns. But it’s assumed these behaviors are hardwired responses to seasonal cues: the animals are programmed to act in pre-set ways with changes in temperature or daylight.

With Clayton’s jays, something different seems to be going on. Her experiment this time exploited the birds’ caching compulsion.

She designed a three-chambered setup. The jays were kept overnight in the central space, with powdered pine nuts to snack on. In the morning they were moved into one of two adjoining spaces, one with food, the other without.

On their second night in the experimental cages, the jays were given a supply of pine nuts and each side room had a sand-filled ice-cube tray for caching. The birds that had previously missed out on breakfast cached three times as many nuts in the “no-breakfast room” as in the “breakfast room.” They seemed to remember whether they had spent the previous morning in a cozy B & B or in a Motel 6.

What could this be, asks Clayton, but a kind of mental time travel?
The rest of this article can be read by clicking here, or visiting

Blue helps Blog

When I write or work on the computer, Blue often sits on the top edge of the flat screen. He likes to watch my fingers on the keyboard. Other times he will sit on my head, or on his perch in front of the open window. Here is Blue who this morning decided to burst into a song and dance when I just raised my hand towards him. He aslo decided he did not like this medical bill and I tend to agree with him. Blue really does help me Blog by providing comic relief and entertainment.

The dance always begins with me doing had signals to him. Its only during this strange song and dance that Blue likes to be touched. Yesterday, after a long dance I picked him up and held him upside down in a lying down sort of position in my hand. He was very calm. I rubbed his belly and he fell asleep like a baby. This was a first in 8 years.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Typical Day

Blue’s average day goes something like this. At about 5:30 am, Blue wakes up and quietly waits. My girlfriend Kate gets up first and Blue spends several hours with her as she does the cages and gets ready for work. He loves to be part of this morning routine. He watches as she crushes up nuts for the other birds and hands him treats. All the while, he softly talks to her. Sorry, no 6:00am pics of my Girlfriend allowed here. I tried that already. At 8:00 am, Blue is transferred to me for care. He takes a shower with me and hangs with me while I get ready in the bathroom. One of the cutest shows of affection is when I get up for the first time in the morning. I will walk in the room where he sits on Kate’s shoulder. When Blue sees me for the first time of the morning, he always looks at me excitedly and peeps. This peep he only makes when he sees me for the first time in the morning. It is like “Hey Dad, I’m right here!”

Blue loves the shower, and the sound of any running water. He also loves the bright lights in the bathroom. He trills and dances on my shoulder as I struggle to awake, now its coffee time. We play in the backyard for about an hour. Blue will always do his song and dance first thing in the AM once we get outside. We play with toys and he sings to my hand signals.

If I am working at home, Blue is always with me, at times I might put him in his cage to organize his nuts and rest. If I leave, I have to decide if I can bring Blue. Blue loves the car. I think he thinks were both flying. Blue will not leave my shoulder outside, even if a dog is barking at him. However, wherever I go dozens of people approach me. They want to see him, take pictures, hear the story and listen to his trill, which he does if you clap.

As you can imagine, I like to show Blue to people, especially children, but it can get a little much. Nevertheless, I take him more often then not. I make sure he gets out on an adventure three times a week at least. In addition, Blue is often not allowed in a coffee shop and certainly no restaurants. Therefore, I take him to places where he is already known, the bank, the pharmacy and the post office are all big fans of Blue.

Blue also gets outside in nature daily. He loves to sit in “his tree” and play. He feels safe from passing big birds.

In short, Blue needs and gets allot of attention. He can be both loving and playful and fierce and playful. He still has a wild side, and he needs both kinds of attention. He likes to play tug of war or pound his beak into my fingers. He cannot bite hard enough to draw blood so I let him pound on my fingertips, which have calluses from playing guitar.

He is jealous of inanimate objects that take away attention from him, the phone, my computer, or a book. All of these things make him go into protest mode.

Blue keeps his cage a certain way. He stashes nuts around, moving them from place to place, always keeping a watchful eye know one sees where he is hiding things.

I often am asked why did I not raise Blue to be released back into the wild. Here is the quick answer.
To raise an infant bird like Blue to reintroduce into the wild takes allot of work, some of which was impossible for me. They cannot interact nor have any contact from humans. Wearing a glove, you would feed the infant every half hour without him even seeing your face, just the feeder tube. This requires you to be home for three months and never even look at your bird.

Once the bird can fly out by itself, you can begin the steps of releasing him. This requires a completely different step, needing allot of time and attention without the interaction. It is not very successful and was not a possibility for me. It was hard enough, bringing him everywhere I went for those three months, feeding him his special diet every half an hour. He would flap his wings fast and cry as I raised the feeding tube to his mouth. Eight years later he still does the “baby flap” when he is very happy or excited.


Sunday, April 1, 2007

Blue's Sunbath Trance and Dance!

Today's Bath

Today was cleaning day and Blue spent the day on one of our shoulders or heads while we worked. He played outside, did the sunbath, and by 4:00 pm. he was beat. So, we put him in his cage to rest and organize his nuts and treasures. He decided it was bath time. Blue does not drink from this bowl. He only baths in it and knows to only drink from his green water dispenser. He also baths in a much larger bowl out of his cage. Blue separates and organizes his nuts and food, hiding things all over. He steals too!

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