How the Hen House Turns: Wild Neighbors (Number Two)

How the Hen House Turns:
Wild Neighbors (Number Two)
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Wild jays never fly over the house to the backyard’s Hen House pen for a snack of lay pellets, but a few small birds do, even when Lucy and the gang are there.

On the front porch bird feeders, only one scrub jay watches and waits for us, but he or she (we can’t tell which) keeps a distance. He doesn’t come in for the peanuts if I wait outside on the porch, but will snatch peanuts off the porch railing when Don has turned away to fill the hanging feeders.

Years ago, two generations of scrub jays frequented the feeders, and some took peanuts from our hand, but only if we rested our hand on the fence rail. One jay would come down from the aspen trees for peanuts, even if I sat down beneath the porch roof to watch. One day I pushed the relationship too far.

While I sat on the porch chair, the scrub jay took several peanuts and hid them in the yard. When only one peanut was left on the rail, I got up, took the peanut, and set it on the table beside my chair. When the scrub returned, I showed him the peanut. He hesitated, squawked, flew in, picked up the peanut, and flew back to the railing. Then with a squawk he threw down the peanut and flew off.

The message was quite clear. “Okay,” I hollered. “You win. Peanuts go on the rail.” A few moments later he came back, picked it up and hid it in the front yard. Ever since then, his rules for the peanut game have remained firmly in place.

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