When I am studying Florida scrub jays in the field I will sometimes bring my phone with me to snap a quick photo or even to take field notes. This post is a gathering of the notes I’ve taken over the last several months.
I do not in any way think these behaviors are exclusive to scrub-jay, although some may be. I have no idea. My goal is to share the behaviors I have witnessed with the readers who are genuinely curious. From what I understand birders from around the globe find our little blue friend very interesting and not all of them are able to make the trip to Florida.
Other Animals Recognize the Scrub Jay Warning Calls
When the scrub-jay sees a hawk or any other kind of perceived danger it will let loose a series of rapid alarms calls. There is always one sentinel on duty and that bird is scanning the skies for a threat. Naturally, the other scrub-jays will dive for cover. But I have witnessed an interesting phenomenon where other bird species as well as rabbits will jump into the bush for cover as well.
These other animals have spent enough time around the scrub-jay species to recognize what the alarm means and without hesitation trust it and react to it. The very same animals which threaten the scrub-jay are also a threat to rabbits and other bird species so it makes sense.
Dive Bombing Scrub-Jays for Food
The red-bellied woodpecker will often divebomb a scrub-jay when it recognizes that jay has a tasty morsel in its mouth. Rarely does the woodpecker make contact with the jay. Instead, the woodpecker is hoping to startle the jay into dropping the food. Often times this will work.
Bird species of the same size are not typically afraid of one another but they do show a little more respect for the woodpeckers because they have the longer sharper bill and really know how to use it.
Blue Jays and Other Animals Will Steal Scrub-jay Stash
Blue Jays, and corvids in general, will watch each other bury food. Then they will immediately steal the stash when the burying bird flies away. I have seen blue-jays and crows do this to one another as well as other corvid species too.
Rabbits will use their keen smell to sniff around areas where scrub-jays are known to cache. They will dig up the stored treats and have it for themselves. This is why scrub-jays will pick a wide variety of stashing locations including up in the trees.
Birds Spot Each Other Well Before I Do
Sometimes I will be hanging out with a single scrub-jay when it will start its quiet songbird-speak seemingly out of the blue. These consists of really low volume chirps. Anytime they do this its because they have spotted another scrub-jay flying inbound. Or there was one there the entire time that you didn’t know was there. They almost always talk to one another when they are coming and going. Even a scrub-jay which isn’t part of their group will do a few chirps back and forth before they chase it out. They have an uncanny ability to see each other way before I do.
The scrub-jay sentinel will perch and be on the lookout while the others gather food and it will never falter. They aren’t preoccupied with what is happening on the ground. They are perfectly secure in their duty and realize they will get a chance to feed later and that protecting the group means survival for them all. This seems to suggest the bird has a sense of time (now vs future). I don’t now of any other animal right off hand that will do this naturally and instinctively. I am sure they exist but I have not seen them.
Main Image from Kim Norris on IG – Check out her photos. They are really good.