October 2005. Steller's Jays.

When I first got to Washington, I observed: "the blue jays here sound like blue jays in Ohio, but they have black heads." Turns out they aren't blue jays, they are Steller's Jays ( Cyanocitta stelleri).

They first came to national -- okay, just backyard -- prominence for their talent at poaching peanuts from squirrels (see squirrels.asp). I tried to discourage them for a while, but then decided that, in spite of their obnoxious noise, they were pretty entertaining, and some of them are adept at catching tossed peanuts in mid-air (see clips below). The smart ones can snatch a peanut away from all but the quickest squirrels.

Among squirrels and steller's jays, there is a wide range of intelligence. Some are smart. Some are stupid. You don't have to watch for very long to notice this when a lot of squirrels or a lot of jays are vying for peanuts. The smarter squirrels, when tossed a peanut, will find it quickly. Some take one in their mouth and look up to me, saying very clearly, okay, now another, which, when tossed to him, he stuffs into his mouth along with the first. The first squirrel who had this habit I named, in Indian fashion, "Wants Two Peanuts". The stupider of the squirrels can't find a peanut when it is right under their noses. They look up in various directions at different times as if peanuts came from random locations in the sky. They have "clueless" written all over them.

I have an intellegence test for the jays and they score in one of three categories. When I toss a peanut in a high arc, the smart ones, fly straight for where the peanut will be on its downward trajectory and intercept it. The medium ones fly directly after the peanut, following its arc up and following its fall to the ground. The stupid jays just scan the ground for peanuts, never realizing that they start in my hand and go through the air before ending up on the ground. The video clips below are only of smart jays.

Here is the scenario: I toss a peanut out the window, and the jays try to catch it. Except for catch05.wmv, each of the little clips shows the catch in real time, then a slowed down version. Even so, you've got to look carefully to see the catches sometimes. Catch05 doesn't show the real time catches, just slo-mo at 25% speed.