Saturday, October 18, 2008

A young hawk and more photos by David Speiser

I asked David to tell me more about this beautiful Red-tailed Hawk and he replied:

it was an immature, no red tail. I was standing below Sparrow rocks, in the field between the rocks the arch and roadway when all of sudden the Hawk swooped into the brush dispersing the White-throats and Starlings. He/she didn't seem to catch anything but created quite a ruckus. It stayed put for about 90 seconds then flew off toward Summit Rock.

Here are a few more photos from this gifted photographer, all taken on Friday, October 17, 2008. More photos at

Hermit Thrush

Palm Warbler

Pine Warbler

Winter Wren

Blue Jay and Red-bellied Woodpecker- Central Park 9/29/08
Photo courtesy of

As you know, I rarely post reports from anywhere but Central Park. Murray Head's photograph triggered a big response, however. I enjoyed hearing from another long-time correspondent who sent in a Blue Jay report from the Midwest. Then on the same day a postscript arrived from his mother in Hawaii!

Back to Central Park tomorrow!


I can't help but add my 2¢ to the jay discussion. I put out whole peanuts for a variety of birds, and the jays are favorite customers (although you'd be surprised what birds come down for peanuts--the hilarity of watching a tufted titmouse carrying off a peanut that's half as large as the bird itself is exceeded only by the bird's ensuing attempts to hold the huge nut in its tiny feet while banging on it to get at the meat).

I've watched as the jays have cached nuts all over my neighborhood; one winter I found peanuts lodged in the wreath on my front door! They are so adept at hiding the nuts in the ground that when I've watched one carefully bury their prize (often covering the spot with a nearby leaf) I often cannot find it when I look for it moments later! Fortunately, I put out roasted peanuts, or I'd have plants popping up all over the place, and even my neighbors have asked me why they're finding peanuts all over their yards!

I doubt the jays find most of the nuts they cache, and in my area the likelihood is even less, since I'm constantly putting out more nuts and they rarely have to resort to eating their stashed nuts.
Beautiful birds, and useful to boot!

Oh, and to make life easier for the titmice, nuthatches, and cardinals who love peanuts but have trouble with the size or the shell, I now put out shelled fragments as well, and the jays will often fill their crop with fragments before stuffing their outer beak with whole nuts.

Bill Trankle
Indianapolis, IN

From Hawaii, Marilyn Trankle writes:

I grew up in California, where we called our jays “California Jays,” a nicer name than the current “Scrub Jay.”

My mother and I trained a jay to come into our house to eat. We kept putting peanuts closer and closer to the kitchen window on the fence beneath the window. The jay learned to tap on the window when he wanted to be fed, and we’d put out the peanuts. Eventually we left the window open with the food inside on an aluminum plate and stood back while he came in and ate. One day he decided it would be much more efficient to take the entire plate—of course he dumped the whole mess on the floor and scared himself to death. Yet he came back!

Another time we put out a whole donut. The jay struggled mightily with it up to the top of the roof next door. He then dropped it and it rolled down the roof and hit a cat, sleeping beneath, on the nose. The cat ate part of the donut while the jay chattered angrily above.

We don’t have jays here in Hawaii, and I miss them. Our mynah birds help take up the slack, however!

Friday, October 17, 2008

More on the marvelous Blue Jay

Central Park Blue Jay - 10/14/08
photo by Murray Head

California Scrub Jay

Betty Jo, a regular correspondent of this website, sent a note in response to John Blakeman's essay on 10/14/08 about oak dispersal by Blue Jays:

Hi Marie,

Out here in California, the Western Scrub Jay definitely plants oaks. I have seen them do it in my yard and they purposely put it in the ground, pounding away with their powerful beaks. The jays in my yard place leaves, clods, and debris over the acorn and I've seen them looking to the left and right as they pound, as if they are marking the spot in their brain.

I do not know anything about the facts of California Oaks dispersion, but in my yard, I give many different kinds of acorns to the jays and I have had trees grow-- a coastal live oak, a valley oak, and another which is from an unidentified non-local oak planted a few streets away--which the jays brought here on their own. The little Botanic Garden where I volunteer has hundreds of tiny coast live oaks planted by the scrub jays. The following is a comment from the Cornell web site: I sure did not know that!

"Western Scrub-Jays in areas where acorns are abundant have deep, stout, slightly hooked bills. Those in areas with lots of pinyon pine have long, shallow, pointed bills. The shape of the bill helps the jays open their preferred foods: a stout bill is good for hammering open acorns and the hook helps rip off the shell; a thinner, more pointed bill can get in between pine cone scales to get at the pine seeds. "

Animals never cease to delight and amaze!

Betty Jo

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The smallest and the biggest

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 9/19/08
photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Turkey - 10/14/08
Photo by Murray Head

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Three birds in the park

all photographed 10/14/08

1.Double Crested Cormorant
2. Gadwall
3.Pine Warbler

They have nothing in common, really, except that they're passing through Central Park in October, and they struck the eye of photographer DAVID

For more photos check out

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blakeman on Bluejays

The Camman's great White Oak

John Blakeman, the Ohio Red-tailed Hawk expert , has been absent from these pages for many months.I was delighted to receive a note from him shortly after I posted Murray Head's superb photo and enlargement of a Blue Jay with a beak-full of acorns. Blakeman wrote:


The delightful photographs of the blue jay with acorns in its mouth are more than a passing curiosity. These photos graphically record a significant ecological force, something not so often attributed to the feisty little blue jay. The story is this:

Out in the Midwest, on prairies from here in Ohio all the way to Nebraska, the original landscapes had tallgrass prairies, scattered and not so large here in the Buckeye State, but ever more massive to the west.

Bordering virtually all Midwestern prairies were oaks, both in dense, closed-canopy oak forests, and also in scattered, wider occurrences in the numerous oak savannas out on the prairies themselves. Just as pines and spruces dominate the evergreen vegetation of the Rockies and other montane communities, oaks dominated the borders of Midwestern prairies.

Even today, when traveling through former prairie areas of Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and other Midwestern states, a few scattered, lone oaks stand majestically out in the open landscape. A few of these patriarchs are two or three centuries old, standing monumentally above the surrounding pastures, row-crop fields, or along rural highways. These trees are ancient and majestic.

But inquiring minds should wonder about how these large, isolated oaks ever got “planted” so far out away from a parent tree. Acorns are rather big. Winds don't blow them far from the parent tree. Still, large, isolated and distance oaks are found all over the prairie landscape. Just how did those acorns get so far out into the original prairie?

Yes, blue jays – just as shown in the photos. For reasons we don't fully understand, blue jays have a propensity for picking up acorns and flying away with them to distant meadow areas. They drop them in new areas, perhaps as a future source of food. Many, of course, are never found and they germinate into oak seedlings.

Without the blue jay and its strange propensity to pick up and distribute acorns into new, open areas, the great American prairie would be absent its iconic oaks. Squirrels carry acorns, but never far. Blue jays are the most significant agent for oak dispersal.

Just down the road from me is the Cammann’s great white oak. It’s between three and four hundred years old. I'm certain it started as an acorn dropped by a blue jay those many years ago, a time when this area was a tallgrass prairie with savanna oaks.

Blue jays, thanks. From little acorns grow giant oaks -- on the prairie with the assistance of this feisty little corvid.

–John A. Blakeman

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Look again

Photographer Murray Head sent in two photos of a Blue Jay. In photo #1 the bird is seen with an acorn in his beak.

An acorn? The second photo is an enlargement of the first. Now look again

"Yes, three," was the photographer's caption for this photo