Monday, September 24, 2012

A Grand Coverup

This weekend I saw something that surprised and amused me: a blue jay hiding some food. It wasn't the fact that it hid its food, though, that got me. Many animals hide food, squirreling (ha!) it away to consume later. This could be anything from just digging a hole, depositing the food and burying it again to stockpiling in a hole in a tree branch. And this behavior is not unknown among blue jays, either.

Clever boy. Photo by Dick Daniels
No. What brought a smirk to my face was how this bird went about stashing his goods.

As I looked out my kitchen window, the jay crept up to my little herb garden with a bright yellow something in his beak. Like a piledriver, he rammed this morsel into the soft dirt of the garden, then paused to glance around before pounding the goody deeper. With another glance around, the jay picked up a leaf and placed it over the hiding spot.

How cool is that!

Now, I don't know how much of this is really what motivated the bird and how much is my own anthropomorphizing of his actions. He seemed to not only look around to make sure no other critters were watching, but also to attempt, in a rudimentary fashion, to mask his chosen hidey hole for the bit of food he nabbed. Apparently, not satisfied with the job, the jay dug up the tidbit and reburied it in another spot, again, looking about from time to time and finishing the job by covering it up with a leaf.

Most animals that I've seen hiding something will either simply place the item in an out-of-the way spot, without any further camouflage, or just bury the thing, leaving the disturbed ground bare and easily spotted. The fact that this bird took the added step of disguising his hiding spot really blew my mind. The sophistication of such a simple action may not come as a surprise to serious birders, but to a kitchen-window watcher like myself, seeing something like that is a source for wonder and amazement at the natural world around me.

I'm just glad that blogging is a uniquely human activity, or else I may be facing retribution of Hitchcockian proportions for blowing the jays' cover.


  1. Hah, I've seen exactly that behaviour in a common crow and again from a window.

  2. @Acleron

    Having seen this now from a jay, I'm not surprised that a crow would do it, too, since they are related species. Very cool behavior, though. I really did not expect it.


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