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The Beastly Blogger

By Gary Bogue
Monday, October 10th, 2005 at 12:24 pm in Animals, Wildlife.

Who Gives a Hoot?

Sunday morning, about 10 a.m., all the scrub jays in the area suddenly flew to the top of my backyard redwood tree and cut loose with a LOT of raucous racket, as only scrub jays can.

It was a "call to arms." Jays are the watchdogs of the neighborhood. If they spot a cat that they know likes to hunt birds, or a hawk, or an owl, or a gopher snake, they’ll zoom in as close as they can to the intruder and scream their fool heads off to alert other birds in the area of the potential danger.

I knew it must be pretty important when I first heard them because one of the jays dropped a peanut I had just fed it. Nothing is as important to a jay as its peanuts … except a "call to arms." Duty calls, as they say.

Within minutes, our two resident jays were joined by four other jays from surrounding territories. Normally, our jays would have been all over the new jays for intruding in their territory, but when the call to arms goes out, the problem area becomes a sort of neutral territory as all the other birds band together against a common danger. The jays were followed by a towhee, two Anna’s hummingbirds that zipped and zoomed around the top of the redwood in formation like a fighter plane escort, and a mockingbird. Later, two crows joined the fray.

One particularly aggressive jay kept diving into the foliage, screaming like crazy. I could see branches bouncing up and down as the now invisible jay banged around the interior of the tree and yelled at something.

Initially, I figured it was a red-tailed hawk or a great horned owl. A Cooper’s hawk would have been too fast and probably have caught the aggressive jay by this time and come cruising out with it clenched in its talons. After another 15 minutes a red-tail would have tired of the annoying jays and lumbered into the sky and off across the canyon. That meant it was a great horned owl, a huge, patient bird that was probably perched up close to the trunk and planning to spend the day sleeping there as soon as the jays left. Nothing chases away one of those big owls if it doesn’t want to leave.

After about an hour, the jays and other birds tired of their fun, decided the intruder wasn’t dangerous and flew off to go about their business. Curious, I slipped out the back door, got down on my hands and knees and crawled carefully under the lower redwood branches and into the room-like area in the middle of the tree. I looked up through the branches. There, near the top and sitting on a large branch next to the thick trunk … was the great horned owl. Its head was cocked over to the side and one of its huge round yellow eyes was glaring down at me.

I crawled back out from under the tree so the owl could have its nap.

Been eavesdropping on your wild neighbors lately?

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