|Western Scrub-Jay (©Ken R. Schneider)|
One week later, I watched what was probably one of these youngsters in my yard again, this time foraging more actively, picking up dead grass stalks systematically. Once again, its efforts did not appear to be crowned with success, but it was trying.
The adults are omnivorous, kind of like feathered bears: They’ll go after anything that’s edible. And they readily learn their way around minor obstacles. Someone in my neighborhood feeds peanuts in the shell, and the birds come to particular flat fencepost stumps in my backyard to hold them down and peck them open with their all-purpose beaks. I'm sure the youngsters will be up to that--someday.
Update: I happened to catch a cool scrub jay post on animal expert Sophia Yin's blog (link here). As she reports, two scientists published a 1999 Nature article on how jays learn from consequences when they store food like nuts in hidden "caches." The nuts last a long time, but cached foods like waxworms don't. It turns out that "the birds had to learn that food such as waxworms degrade after long intervals. A separate set of scrub jays whose rotten waxworms were secretly replaced with fresh ones after long intervals, never learned that waxworms go bad." And they behaved accordingly, very differently from the jays that had learned otherwise. The flexibility provided by learning--even if it's researcher-assisted and "unnatural"--helps the birds survive.