Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Catepillars vs. Grape Jelly

One day last week I was in my backyard working madly away in a flower bed. It was in need of some general cleanup and removing dead growth left patches of bare ground. In the process of clearing away the vegetation I noticed a couple of caterpillars. Being the nature lover I am, I replaced them in the vegetation and went on with my work. After a time, our frequently visiting Western Scrub Jay appeared in the birch tree above me. She (at least I think it's a she) sat above me and seemed to be watching me work. Shortly, I discovered it wasn't me that she was interested in, but rather she'd spied one of the caterpillars who had crawled back out of the flowers. The jay patiently waited until I was ready to haul away the debris I'd accumulated. As soon as I was about 15 feet away the Jay swooped down and picked up the caterpillar. So much for my trying to "protect" the caterpillar!

Now here's the thing I'm confused about. The Jay didn't eat the caterpillar, but instead flew off with it. Now, that is certainly their habit with peanuts. They hide peanuts for later eating. But you can't cache a caterpillar so I assumed the Jay would have eaten the insect after catching it. But no, she definitely was taking it somewhere.

So, being springtime, I assume that her purpose of flying off with the caterpillar was to bring "baby food" to her nest. Seems reasonable. But then I wondered if this might be an immature Jay with the caching instinct even for bugs. I guess I really have to cast my vote for the "baby food" theory.

This Jay has done another interesting thing. It has developed a taste for the grape jelly we offer the orioles. Up until recently the Jay has come to the feeder and eaten the jelly. Now recently, I've witnessed her flying off with gobs of jelly in her beak. Is the caching instinct at work again? Or, is she taking grape jelly to feed young ones? Yikes, I hope not ... that doesn't sound like a good diet for growing nestlings. There is a little more protein in a caterpillar than grape jelly! Maybe I'd better go back out to the garden and dig around some more.


Juliabohemian said...

a mom will feed her babies almost anything she can find. they need to eat almost around the clock.

a few years back we had a Bewick's wren nesting on our patio. The Mom and Dad both help to feed the babies. I think there were 5 or 6. Anyway, they were exhausted going back and forth all day. So we collected some bugs and attached an empty shoebox of bugs and seeds on the trunk of the tree, right under the nest. They actually used them! I was so thrilled and glad I could help. (I know just how they feel)

Anil said...

If I were to hazard a guess, the Jay might not be taking jelly to its young ones, but then you never know. In my time, I've watched sparrows feed their young, and not once did they feed their young with the 'goodies' I left them. Invariably they flew in with insects for their young.

Shari said...

Yes Anil, I must agree as I have faith in parenting birds ... But the jay returned to the jelly feeder so often that I couldn't help wonder what she was doing with all the jelly. Of course, the jays return to the peanut feeder until all the peanuts are taken and safely hidden somewhere. I wonder if she tried to hide the jelly, lol. She doesn't get all the jelly though, because she must compete with the orioles for it.

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