The Florida Scrub Jay has survived for millions of years by being aware of predators, by controlling its small territory and by being resourceful. Like most birds, the scrub-jay will stash food for later. But the complexity of how it stashes and manages this food is astounding.
Scrub-jays will have thousands of locations where they store food. And studies have proved that they remember about 80% of all of their stashes. When they bury a morsel of food for later they will usually put an object on top of the spot or they will bury it next to a small plant. They then move their head several times, taking mental snapshots of the location. It is believed scrub-jays and other birds have a built-in type of locating system. There is a virtual map in their brains composed of many thousands of snapshots and they can access this map at any time.
Another behavior I have witnessed is that a scrub-jay will be bouncing about on the ground then suddenly realize he or she is in a location where they have previously stashed food. It is a like hypnotic spell comes over them. They are instantly distracted from what they were doing and they will start to dig for that piece of food. They will usually be right-on-the-money. Sometimes the buried treat will be a an inch off the mark. And sometimes it won’t be there at all. Was the bird just mistaken? Possibly. But I have seen other scrub-jays, birds of other species, rabbits and field mice dig up a scrub-jays stored food, so its anyone’s guess.
The scrub-jay knows that you cannot put all your eggs in one basket so to speak. The bird knows that if there is a flood or a fire then their ground stash can be completely lost. So they will store food in the ground and on growing vegetation of varying height. I have seen them stash eggcorns at the very tip tops of pine trees. A majority of their stash is in the ground however. A lot of times you will see a scrub-jay on the side of a walking path because this is part of their caching area.
Usually a scrub-jay will have multiple patches where they manage their own private stash. The amazing thing about this is they will choose several areas, all with slightly different elevations. They bury less ripened eggcorns at lower levels because they know the increased amount of water exposure will help wash tannins from the eggcorn. As the eggcorn is washed more they will re-bury it in slightly higher elevation where it will receive less water flow.