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Friday, April 27, 2012

Sibling Rivalry and Scrub Jays

I witnessed an amazing display of sibling rivalry and peanut caching antics. Throughout last winter two siblings came each day to visit Blue and get free peanuts. One a bit more nervous than the other. He would come within a few feet of me while the other would land on me, and even enter the house at times. 

When Spring came they stopped coming. Busy building their nests I could still see them grabbing branches and zipping about. Each had found a suitable mate. Each pair built a nest on opposite sides of the street high in the trees. 

They would still acknowledged my existence with a friendly buzz over pat on the head and a cackle now and then. With their nests now complete. They came back for peanuts today in a flurry. I came home to scrub jays buzzing over my head as I entered the house and screaming at me through the windows. So I went to my bag and tossed a few peanuts out in the open. 

The siblings were extremely competitive as all corvids. Scrub-jays are non-migratory and mated pairs defend their territory year-round. So now we have siblings defending the same general territory. That spells one thing, fun. 

One out of a pair stands watch so they can see and guard their nest while the other grabs and hides nuts and also tries to force their sibling away. There was plenty for all but that did not seem to matter. Interesting was the watcher would never leave the post where they could not see their nest. Even if  a peanut was right below them. They would however signal their mate whenever a peanut came into their field of vision using a specific call. Both pairs used the same exact vocalizations each time. When a peanut was taken and successfully hidden by their mate, sometimes re-hidden out of the prying eyes of the other Scrub Jay, each watcher would then give a specific trill telling the other that they had successfully hidden the peanut safely and could return for more. 

Hidden both high and low, in flowers buds, palm trees and buried on the ground,  this pattern of communication went on and on for twenty minutes as they cached nuts. They would aggressively dive, fly and even crash into each other to push the other out of the way. Brother sister, it did not matter. It was quite the show and a tad funny as they learn these things from their parents. 

 Being highly intelligent and social , young western scrub-jays learn most of their behavior from their parents. They will remain with them until they are about three or four months old before leaving to find mates. Corvids, which include crows, have a larger brain to body size than any other family of birds, comparable to that of dolphins and even chimpanzees. The region of the brain responsible for intellect is larger in corvids than in any other group of birds. Add to that, corvids have a higher density of brain cells than any other bird. Jays are highly active, enjoy play and exhibit amusing food caching antics. Like all corvids they are fun to watch. I look forward to getting some video. I have been so busy and this all happened very quickly. But it is obvious they will be back. In fact one is still persistently at my door now. Please feel free to submit your own pictures, videos or stories. 

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Tim & Blue

Dr. Jonathan Balcombe on Scrub Jay Memory & Ted Talk on Crows

Ted Talk on Crows - Crows & Scrub Jays are in the same family. A must See!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tips for those in for the long haul

A quick post. A few people have left comments in the " I found a scrub Jay what do I do? post. There are some amazing stories there. And I am glad so many people helped each other in my absence.

A Scrub Jay named Paraguin Pickle is alive and has a great home thanks to some great people who found him covered in mud as a baby. They have done an amazing job. 

As Blue is now about 13. I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way. Both good and bad.

Sandpaper perch covers. Sounds like a good idea to keep their claws from getting too long. It's not. In fact, it damages the pads on the bottom of their feet.  I know every pet store carries them, but they are no good.  And not just Scrub Jays but most all birds. They sell a soft fabric perch cover that sticks on and comes in a roll like tape. You can find this at a good vet or avian clinic. Possibly at your local pet store.

Learn to trim their nails or have an avian vet do it. I really prefer to do it myself. Make sure you learn how first. There are a ton of how to videos up on that. It can be dangerous to have their claws too long. For both of you.

Later I will do a post on beak and nail over growth as it is something that everyone will deal with who has a Scrub Jay for a long time. It can be remedied very easily.

Another reminder. The more variety in their diet the better. Mix it up. Hand feeding is great, but let them crack and eat their own nuts.  Its good for their beak and they will not become reliant on you to do it for them.

Yellow Veggies are good for their eyes and that's the one area they are prone to have the most problems as they get older. Carrots, Yellow Squash. Organic plain baby food works for this. Just vegetable and water. And the birds love it. You may find your seven year old Scrub Jay still flapping it's wings making  baby sounds when you feed them this. Blue still does.

Because these birds are so social. You will find when they are young they do well around most other people.  But they may be frightened by odd things. More so as they age.  A certain color, a certain sound.  Someday you will come home and your bird will look at you and scream. For me it was a hat... and a certain jacket or two. If I wear them. He gets scared. So, I don't wear them near him. If someone is doing yard work outside I stay home. A scared bird in a cage is no good. They will flap around and get hurt. A really scared Scrub Jay will go open beak in panic, its time to take action to calm them down if this happens. Take them in another room. Make it dark. Talk to them. Take them away from whatever is scaring them. The lawnmower, whatever it may be. Oddly blue loves white noise. He sings to it. Try it!

If you ever want another vacation in your lifetime find someone you really trust and let them bond with your bird. 

Let someone get to really know your Scrub Jay. Let them get close to it so it's very comfortable with them so they can stay and watch it for you. Although we have boarding services here. Blue at his age is so reliant on me, is so used to his known environment and our routine. I could never board him. I would not sleep at night. I have to have someone he is very comfortable with here with him in our house.

Lastly, just give them a ton of attention. They live for it. Give them plenty of toys, hiding spots for their nuts, and lots of patience and love. You won't regret it.

Check out some of the new data on the intelligence of the western Scrub Jay! New lifespan data there too. The oldest Scrub is 15 years old.


Recent research has suggested that Western Scrub-Jays, along with several other corvids, are among the most intelligent of animals. The brain-to-body mass ratio of adult Scrub Jays rivals that of chimpanzees and cetaceans, and is dwarfed only by that of humans. Scrub Jays are also the only non-primate shown to plan ahead for the future, which was previously thought of as a uniquely human trait[7] Other studies have shown that they can remember locations of over 200 food caches, as well as the food item in each cache and its rate of decay. [8]"