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Scrub jays eat ticks from backs of deer

By Gary Bogue
Monday, March 28th, 2011 at 6:27 am in deer, scrub jay.

Jay eats ticks on deer’s head. Photo by George Puterbaugh, Walnut Creek, CA
jay deer george puterbaugh wc

Over the last couple of weeks I have seen a blue jay hopping on the back, neck and head of a deer and pecking out of the fur insects or something. I have only seen a similar act by birds in Africa working over a water buffalo. Is this unusual for this area?
George Puterbaugh, Walnut Creek, Calif.

It’s actually pretty common. About a year ago I answered a similar question in my newspaper column and immediately received a bunch of e-mails and letters from other readers who had observed jays hopping around on deer and pecking and feeding on ectoparasites (ticks, fleas, lice) in the same way as oxpeckers dine on the backs of large grazing animals in Africa.

I did a little research and found a couple of scientific papers reporting on “Observations of Scrub Jays Cleaning Ectoparasites from Black-Tailed deer” as far back as 1944. The deer appear to love it. They certainly don’t protest. /Gary

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