Going Nuts for Blue Jays

bluejaysWatch out, squirrel. You’ve got competition this autumn.

Acorn gathering and burying is often considered a squirrel hobby. Turns out, Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) are pretty good at it too. Okay, really good.

Blue Jays have a pouch in their throat they can use to hold acorns (up to 5!). When they reach a caching site, the birds will spit up the acorns and bury them one at a time under leaves or in the dirt.

One study showed that Blue Jays were responsible for relocating more than half the acorns in a forested plot. (1) That’s over 130,000 acorns! And yes, the birds usually remember where they’re hidden. They’ll often place the morsels near “beacons” like rocks or fences.

Another study suggested that the birds were the most likely culprit in the spread of oaks after the last Ice Age (2). Most trees with heavy seeds returned slowly to the barren lands left when the glaciers retreated. But the oaks came back quickly. Squirrels couldn’t do that, but Blue Jays could.

  1. Darley-Hill S and Johnson WC. 1981. Acorn dispersal by the blue jay. Oecologia. 50(2) 231-232.
  2. Carter JW and Adkisson CS. 1986. Airlifting the oaks. Natural History. 95(10) 40-48.

By the way, Lego(R) came out with a bird series this year – and it includes the blue jay. They should add a small Lego acorn to go along with it.

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9 thoughts on “Going Nuts for Blue Jays

  1. Every time I see a blue jay up close, I’m surprised by how large they are. So 5 acorns doesn’t seem a stretch. Thanks for the info and the beautiful drawings. And I’m going to check out those Legos too. (K)

  2. I didn’t know the blue jays go after acorns too. Around me there’s a bunch of acorn woodpeckers that stuff the acorns into small holes they peck into trees. The ground squirrels compete for them too, though this year there’s hardly any acorns.

    • A botanist told me that crop years cycle. Basically, the idea is that it keeps acorn-eating populations low. During a high crop year, some acorns will survive!
      Thanks for the info on acorn woodpeckers. I’ll have to keep an eye out for those.

  3. The American South: Blue Jays and Ol’ Prejudices – A-wing and A-way

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