Jays Just Doin’ Their Thing

California Scrub Jay
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

That mischievous Scrub or Blue Jay in your yard or neighborhood is not just a very attractive trouble-maker, but he or she is also an ecosystem engineer. Jays of all sorts around the world love to hide or “cache” seedsaround their territory  – a behavior known as “scatter-hoarding.” The idea is that when times are tough, the birds can go back and find a food cache for a meal. But many of these hidden seeds never get eaten, and sprout to form new trees from caches in all kinds of diverse areas  something the trees themselves count on for diversifying the forests.

Scientists have been looking for ways to harness jays’ innate desire to cache seeds to get these birds to work on behalf of habitat restoration.  This article published on Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s site shows that Eurasian Jays have been used in Europe to create new habitats, as forest restoration managers plant small stands of the trees they need, and let the jays do the disbursement for them.  In America, scientists are contemplating introducing Channel Island Scrub-Jays to islands where they no longer exist to literally speed the plow on restoration of forests after livestock have been removed. All this can amount to a simpler and less intensive method of keeping our forests diverse. And makes the clever jay a willing accomplice for a better forest.

The review is by Mario Pesendorfer of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his colleagues at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and The Nature Conservancy.