The Birdman of Bel Air
for National Geographic News
A large part of the natural diet of scrub jays consists of acorns. Each fall a wide variety of oak trees throughout the range of scrub jays produce large masses of acorns, which the birds harvest from the trees and from the ground.
However if a scrub jay becomes domesticated to your yard, it will eat just about anything you put outand the bird will approach you quite closely in order to dine.
One September I collected some oak acorns from around my neighborhood, and I placed them in my side yard for the scrub jays. Sure enough, the birds soon descended on my yard and started collecting the acorns until they were all gone.
But from the earliest days of operating my bird garden, scrub jays have expressed a preference for unshelled, unsalted peanuts. I tried setting out a potpourri of mixed birdseed, almonds, raisins, and even pieces of cornbread for the jays. Yet they always took the peanuts first.
When I set out a bunch of peanuts on my first platform feeder, even a juvenile scrub jay knew enough about the benefits of peanuts to visit the feeder on repeated occasions, systematically cleaning me out.
I then placed a plastic jar full of peanuts on the ground in my side yard. The scrub jays soon learned how to alight atop the jar, pull out a peanut with their beaks, and then fly off. Although sometimes they dropped the peanut in their excitement.
Next I placed the peanuts inside a hanging tube feeder, so that the jays could pull the peanuts through the feeder's wire mesh. The jays went nuts for this, cleaning me out in a matter of minutes with their repeated visits to that feeder.
Of course scrub jays will always pick peanuts off the ground. If you're really patient, you may get a scrub jay to take a peanut from your hand.
In addition to peanuts, scrub jays feed voraciously on black-oil sunflower seeds, sometimes collecting the seeds until their crops, or gullet pouches, are full and there are rows of sunflower seeds showing in their beaks.
Just as often, however, jays will pick up one sunflower seed in their beaks and then fly off to a nearby perch to peck, peck, peck it open.
And whether they are on the ground or in a platform feeder, scrub jays are always interested in mixed birdseed. Indeed, when black-oil sunflower seeds run low, scrub jays often line up a row of milo seeds in their beaks and then fly off to either store the bounty or consume it.
One day I set out some grapes, some bread, and some cheese on a hanging, wooden platform feeder. The jays ate it all. I even threw some tortilla chips on the ground, and the jays gathered up the chips as rapidly as they did the peanuts. They are indeed great foragers.
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