Foam Lake Birding No. 98

No. 98
Beautiful fall weather like the sort that we have just had these past two weeks always brings back pleasant memories from similar Octobers in times past. It is hard to imagine anything nicer especially if the crops are bountiful and successfully harvested.
Growing up on the farm I recall seeing Blue Jays coming to our yard in the fall to feed on the abundant hazelnuts around our buildings. It was quite a sight to see the large blue coloured birds climbing about the golden leafed hazelnuts. Subdued tones of blue and gold provide a pretty contrast and are pleasing to the eye. However, what interested me the most was watching Blue Jays eating Hazelnuts. One would pick a nut up in its claw, like a person using his hand, bring the nut up and peck a hole in the shell then eat the inside. The dexterity of the birds always amazed me.
The Blue Jay belongs to the corvid (crow) family that includes the crows, ravens and magpies. The jays are the most colourful members of the group and usually sport crests. There are three jays in Canada: the Stellars Jay of the Rockies, the Blue Jay east of the Rockies and the Grey Jay of the Boreal forests. The Grey Jay looks like an overblown chickadee and has no crest. The Stellars Jay is an indigo blue gradually darkening to all black on the head including the crest. The Blue Jay has medium blue wings, tail, back, top of head and crest with light grey under parts. The wings and tail have extensive white markings and the grey breast and neck are separated by a bold black neck ring. The only birds it can be confused with are the Stellars Jay and the Belted Kingfisher both of which are blue and crested, however, the differences are marked enough that there really should be no confusion. All three jays are about the size of robins with males and females being the same.
The Blue Jay is the only jay that migrates but not to any great extent. It is not uncommon to see one well into winter and outside the prairies it does not migrate at all. To more easily survive periods of severe cold and snowy weather, the Blue Jay stores food like a squirrel or chipmunk. Like these animals it carries its food in its cheeks giving it a big headed look. About ten years ago we had a Blue Jay in our backyard that spent the month of November collecting peanuts that I would put out and hiding them in various places in our yard. Later in the day I would go around and collect the stashed peanuts and put them out for the jay again. Again, the jay would take the same peanuts and hide them in the very same places where I had just collected them myself. This kept on for days until the jay failed to return one morning. I have always hoped that it decided to migrate and was not caught by a predator, but I do recall how funny the bird looked with its grossly misshapen head caused by several unshelled peanuts stuffed in its cheeks.
Jays are quite omnivorous and will eat just about anything with the exception of seeds that have no oil in them. Various oilseeds, nuts and insects are staples augmented with the eggs and young robbed from other birds' nests. Because of their predatory nature jays can become a menace to nesting songbirds
This week's picture of the Blue Jay was taken in a campground in Nova Scotia. This particular jay was very coy and would not raise its crest but I managed to get a decent picture of it anyway. The photo of the two Stellars Jays was taken at the ski resort at Mt. Lemmon just north of Tucson AZ. The temperature in Tucson was over 30C and about 30 minutes north in the mountains it was about 10C with wind - cold. What a contrast!

John Senkiw