A few years back I had an interesting discussion with a Western Scrub-Jay. We talked about how smart and intelligent the corvid family was. Well, the jay did mostly. I just listened. The corvid family, which includes jays, both Scrub and Steller’s, crows, ravens and magpies, are known for their smarts. Too smart for their own good sometimes, but you have to admire them for their cleverness.
I saw him again at the feeder recently. I knew it was the same jay because he rushed right over hoping for a special snack. "Hey!" I shouted. "It’s…you." "You can call me Alan," he said. "If you feel the need to call me something." "Well, what do others call you?" I asked. "That depends," he stated. "Some people call me "that blue devil". Others call me "dang bird". One of your neighbors down the street has a really long name for me. When I was young for the longest time I thought my name was "get the hell out of here". I decided it must not actually be my name because it was always followed by a few rocks. Some neighbors like me, though. Whenever I’m in their yard they try to give me a bath by spraying me with water."
"Oh," I said. "You can eat here, if you like. Just don’t bother any of my other birds." "Oh, sorry, no promises," he said. "It’s my nature to be aggressive. The corvid family has a brain that is large in proportion to the size of our body, making us more intelligent than other birds. And, we’re omnivores, which means we can eat almost anything—meat, insects, greens, fruit, vegetables, In-N-Out French fries. Good stuff like that."
"I know," I said. "We talked about this last time I saw you. Which, by the way, was several years ago. Just how old are you now?" "Well," he said with a smirk. "Not as old as you, of course. I’m about 8 years old in human years." "I guess that makes you about 62 years old in jay years," I said smirking back. "Oh, great math there," he chuckled. "Try 72 years old in jay years. And, I didn’t even need a calculator."
"Oh, by the by," Alan said. "You are clearly not aware that I am no longer called a Western Scrub-Jay. We western jays have now been officially split. California, Oregon and Washington scrub jays are now called California Scrub-Jays. Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas scrub jays are called Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. I know. Think I’d rather be called "get the hell out of here" jay than Woodhouse. Anyway, just thought I would give you a little heads up on that in case you weren’t keeping up-to-date on your bird news." "Of course, I am," I fibbed. "Well, in case you’re not," he said winking one of his dark brown eyes. "The differences between the "coastal" form (now the California Scrub-Jay) and the "interior" form (now Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay) is that we California Scrub-Jays are darker and described as having a more bold personality, while the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay is paler, has a thinner bill, and tends to be more shy and inconspicuous, if that’s even possible for a jay. And, it was finally noticed that we two jays rarely interbreed."
"Good to know," I said. "So, I’ll give you a few mealworms as a treat if you’ll consider leaving the other birds at the feeder alone." "That sounds like a bribe," he chuckled. "I’ll take it." I handed him several mealworms which he promptly flew off with and buried. "Hey, don’t bury those!" I yelled. "They’ll die by the time you find them again." He looked at me slightly annoyed. "Let me tell you about a study that was done many years ago involving jays and our memory. Try to absorb this, if you can. The study involved whether we scrub jays could remember the ‘what, where, and when’ of specific caching events. We cache perishable foods, such as worms, as well as non-degradable nuts and, as you know, we do not eat rotten items, so it’s vital that we recover perishable food before it goes bad. Although the jays in the study had no cue predicting whether or not the worms had perished other than the time that had elapsed between the time of caching and the time at which they could recover the caches they had hidden previously, they rapidly learned that highly preferred worms were fresh and still delicious when recovered four hours after caching, whereas after 124 hours, the worms had decayed and tasted awful. Consequently, they avoided the wax worm caches after too much time had passed and instead recovered exclusively peanuts, which never perish. Are you with me so far?" "Yes, of course," I said. "So," he continued. "After the experience with caching and recovering worms and peanuts after the short and long intervals, the experimenters removed the food after the jays had buried it, and still the jays went to each site to look for the food, relying on memory to do so rather than cues coming directly from the food. Later tests revealed that the jays could remember which perishable foods they had hidden, where and how long ago, regardless of whether the food had decayed or ripened."
"Wow, that’s amazing stuff," I chuckled. "Can you tell me where I put my cup of coffee and whether it’s still hot?" "Oh, that’s really funny," he said shaking his bluish-gray head. "Just what do you expect from an 11" long creature with a brain the size of a raisin? I’m just a bird. A descendant from reptiles. No formal education, no schooling, no books, no internet, no television, no iPhone, and my parents only raised me for two months before I was on my own." "Geez," I said feeling terrible. "I’m sorry, okay? You seemed so knowledgeable. I’m really sorry about that." Just then Alan flew off in the direction of my back door. "Hey!" I yelled after him. "I said I was sorry! Where are you going?"
"Be back," he said. "Your daughter has a trigonometry question. And, your coffee’s cold."
Bless the jays ~ Joanie and Annie