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Old Nov 7, 2007, 2:34 PM   #1
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I recently posted this comment in a thread by Sabine withhis very nice picture of a Scrub Jay in the Wildlife forum:

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Western Scrub Jays out here get very tame if they live around houses, learning to take food from peoples hands, even coming into houses where they have been encouraged to do so, and are treated like pets. For some reason, there are none resident within 10 or 15 miles of my house, but one wandered through a few years ago and stayed long enough to teach the House Finches that apples were good to eat, and then left - we haven't had an unblemished crop since!
This is the legacy of that bird's visit - House Finches and a White-crowned Sparrow (juvenile) helping themselves on an overcast day. Pentax K10D and Tamron 28-300 @ 300mm, hand held , ISO 400, f6.3, 1/60 (2) and 1/90 (1) sec. Not the best, due to motion blur (the birds' and mine) and shallow DOF, butthey record the event.

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Old Nov 7, 2007, 2:35 PM   #2
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Old Nov 7, 2007, 2:36 PM   #3
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Old Nov 7, 2007, 10:45 PM   #4
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Your apples must be tasty- a neighbor of mine has a tree full of green or yellow apples and most of them are untouched by anything. They are slowly rotting on the tree, now.
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Old Nov 8, 2007, 12:55 AM   #5
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Hi penolta,

And it appears the Finches have taught the Sparrows. . . Looks like smart birds and a good apple crop are now pretty much mutually exclusive in your neighborhood.

I would think that this is a pretty radical change in behavior -- isn't it pretty rare for birds to change their food source like this? I would think that they would just fly off to where their normal food would be more plentiful, rather than learning another -- especially from seeing a different species eating it.

Scott
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Old Nov 8, 2007, 3:08 AM   #6
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We don't have that problem with apples. (plums, berries is another story)

But I like the shots :G

Ronny

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Old Nov 8, 2007, 1:58 PM   #7
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Thanks for the comments- it is a fun story to share.

Scott, bird behavior certainly can be inflexible in some aspects, but we have come to realize it is far more flexible than we had realized in others. A better House Finch example than this copycat apple behavior (and my favorite)is the way they learned to soften hard sunflower seeds, which used to be in our seed mixes (they are softer now). After the first rains of the season some years ago, sunflower seed hulls began to appear in t e bird bath. The explanation seems to be that water collecting in the pans softened the shells, and then perhaps some smart bird got the bright idea to take his seeds to the birdbath and, raccoon-like, soften them in the water. Others thencopied the behavior and I saw many examples of the finches wetting them. The odd thing was that the behavior faded in the dry season, only to begin anew each year after the first rain "reminded" them.It no longer occurs since the softer seeds were substituted. As far as the "fruit salad" is concerned, these finches used to be considered a major agricultural pest in the strawberry fields in Southern California when they occurred in the large flocks that we no longer see, so their diets can be somewhat varied.
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