Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blue Jays -- © Dave Spier

Blue Jay in Red Maple -- © Dave Spier

Speaking of Red Maples (in my previous blog post), I have a photo of a Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) in a Red Maple. During our two-week September-October camping trip around the 'dacks, the ubiquitous Blue Jay was the number one bird sighted, not in total numbers (that would be Canada Geese heading south) but in number of locations and frequency encountered. Sometimes I would hear an unusual bird call, only to track down another Blue Jay or even a Blue Jay family. Not all of their songs are raucous, and they are also capable of mimicking a Buteo or Accipiter call.

Jays are noted for burying acorns and beechnuts for use through the winter. Beech need all the help they can get as they succumb to disease (but I'll save that for another blog). Oaks, beech and American Chestnuts are all close relatives and the jay is credited with their rapid return to the north following the melting of the last continental glacier. Nut-bearing trees advanced up to 380 yards a year, thereby leapfrogging the maples and birches with their wind-blown seeds. The Adirondacks are generally too cold for oaks and the chestnut, which once dominated forests across southern parts of the state, was wiped out by the blight, but there's not much the jay can do about that now. [While we're on the subject of the Ice Age, it's speculated that spruce advanced as fast as the ice melted and likely grew right up to the edge of pro-glacial lakes. This is based on pollen counts taken from bog cores that span the intervening thousands of years.] In a Wisconsin study, jays were found to carry between three and 14 beechnuts up to two-and-a-half miles per trip. Most were stored in the throat and mouth plus one more in the beak. It was also noted they chose travel routes with good escape cover in the event a migrating hawk – usually a Cooper's – spotted them.

For more on the Blue Jay statewide, please visit the northeast naturalist blog.  [bold blue type indicates a link]  Questions and corrections may be sent to

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