Blue jay

A blue jay stuffs suet nuggets into its crop and bill during a visit to a New England bird-feeding station.

I received an interesting email the other day from a reader who witnessed a fascinating behavior at her bird feeder recently.

Margaret from East Alstead wrote about her blue jays stuffing several sunflower seeds in their mouths and bills before flying off. “A jay landed and proceeded to pick up seeds at a great rate. He left in a bit, but he really had my attention. When he returned I started counting. He took in 25 before departing. Subsequent counting came up with a similar number.”

Blue jays, like many other birds, will cache seeds and nuts for future use. Blue jays have an expandable pouch, or crop, in their esophagus that allows them to hold great amounts of seeds.

Margaret’s email reminded me of a day a few years ago when I watched blue jays stuffing their crops, mouths and bills full of suet nuggets from my platform feeder. Suet nuggets are sold in relatively small bags and, like many types of bird food, aren’t cheap. I had intended the nuggets to be shared among a great variety of birds, but these jays took the lion’s share of the bag; not that I minded. I find blue jays to be infinitely interesting and beautiful, despite their well-deserved bad reputation.

Recalling this behavior got me thinking about how other birds eat at feeders. There are the grab-and-go eaters such as chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. There are the sit-there-and-eat feeders such as cardinals, finches and sparrows. Then there are ones like the blue jay, which is a combination of both. Woodpeckers, in my observations, are a bit of a combination as well when eating sunflowers seeds. They remain longer than chickadees but not as long as finches. A red-bellied woodpecker that frequents my bird feeder will stay for about eight seconds before flying off, only to return a few minutes later.

Thinking back to spring and summer, rose-breasted grosbeaks will sit there and eat for long periods of time. I’m thankful for the extended looks as their timeframe for visiting feeders in New England is much more limited than the birds mentioned previously.

Whether they hang around the feeder or steal a seed and go, they are all fun to watch. I like the fly-in, fly-out style of the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches as it adds a little action to the feeding station. I also like the birds that sit there and stuff their bills for minutes on end as that makes for easy observation and study.

Pretty soon, snow will likely become a regular part of our landscape. For me, you just can’t beat watching an active bird-feeding station while snow falls all around. It’s New England at its best.

For the Birds runs Mondays in The Sentinel. Chris Bosak may be reached at chrisbosak26@gmail.com or through his website www.birdsofnewengland.com