white-crowned-adult-1I received my first report of a white-crowned sparrow sighting this past Saturday from a customer who lives out Williamson Valley. I have not seen any yet, but I am looking forward to having them return to my yard.

Interestingly, I think most people – myself included – think of our summer birds (such as orioles, grosbeaks and hummingbirds) as “residents,” even though many of them are here only for a brief period of time each year.

And I think most people think of our winter birds as being “visitors” instead of residents. It is interesting, however, that some of our winter birds actually spend more time in Arizona than our summer birds. White-crowned sparrows certainly fit in this category. They arrive in September and stay until late April, and even into early May.

It would seem that white-crowned sparrows, as winter visitors, are more like a resident than many of our summer breeding bird species which are here for a much shorter period of time.

Over the past week, the one wild bird behavior that has really stood out to me is the frantic pace of our Western scrub-jays. They have turned into harvesting “machines,” visiting pinyon pine trees to gather nuts from the pine cones. Timing is everything, and jays seem to know just when the pine crop is ready for harvesting.

They are busily gathering pine nuts almost nonstop. I do not know how many they can gather in a given day, but I am sure it numbers in the hundreds. And what do they do with all of these pine nuts they gather each day? Certainly they eat some of them, but the majority of them are stored or “cached” for the winter months ahead.

Jays are the “squirrels” of the bird world. They are industrious and diligent, gathering and storing pine nuts in anticipation of a hard winter ahead. As they hide the pine nuts, they are unknowingly securing the survival of the plant species that is producing the nuts.

This type of relationship where two different species are benefited by each other is not unique in nature. In this case, the pinyon pine tree produces nuts that are desired by the jays. The jays act as “agents” in dispersing the seeds by burying them in the earth to create a future crop of trees that will produce nuts for future generations of jays-and so it goes on year after year. Nature truly is amazing to witness and observe.

There is another jay species in Arizona that behaves similarly. The more notable jay species that relies on pine nuts is the aptly named pinyon jay. This species is very unique in that it is nomadic, ranging far and wide in search of pinyon pine forests that produce an abundance of pine nuts. The jays exploit the crop, and when the food source is depleted, they move to a different area where there is an abundance of pine nuts.

The biology of birds – the instinct they have to know that they must secure sufficient food for lean months ahead – is remarkable. This trait is not present in all birds, but it is a common behavior in jays.

A quick reminder – our annual Wild Bird Photography Contest is in full swing. The submission period ends Saturday, Sept. 29. I encourage you to participate. It doesn’t cost anything, and there are great prizes for those with winning entries. Stop by the store, or check out the Jay’s Bird Barn website for photo contest guidelines.