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Wild Idea: recruit corvids to plant peanuts for me?  RSS feed

 
Dan Boone
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I'm posting this wild idea mostly to demonstrate how useful I find Permies.com for stimulating wild ideas that just might be crazy enough to work.

Some history: I am on 40 acres of post-pasture succession, with a lot of rough areas, erosion, protruding bedrock, thorny trees, and non-native grasses. Soil is poor, rainfall is not well-distributed in the growing season, and anything I plant is a battle to nurture against drought, weed competition and browsers (deer and rabbits and rodents, oh my). So just about anything I plant that's outside the range of my garden hose is in a battle for its life. There's lots of permaculture potential, but also lots of labor needed to realize it. (Of course.)

We are in former peanut-growing country (though all commercial production is gone due to federal quotas and a comparative advantage in Georgia and elsewhere.) So this spring I obtained some raw peanuts and planted them out in various places. I didn't expect a crop, but I was hoping for some good growth and leguminous soil improvement. Instead, they all succumbed at various stages to drought and weeds and browse. I'm not dismayed by this, I just figure that I need to plant more of them in more places.

Different history thread: We have deer, and ticks, and dogs. Lots of all three. Ticks are a constant problem. So I am researching guinea fowl, although the difficulties are numerous (nearby road, numerous ill-behaved dogs both foreign and domestic, massive predator pressure from hawks, owls, coyote, maybe even bobcat and fox). And with some interest I noted J. C. Whitecloud's thoughts on "stratified fowlery" with many complementary avian layers, including corvids:

Blue Jays (my namesake) are nothing more than small "Ravens" with brilliant minds, wonderful personalities and forever vigilant. Unlike the "guineafowl" and other Phasianidae family, Blue Jays will not "RUN AND HIDE," they will tell everyone with a very clear voice of the predator, then go after it in numbers, either driving it away or giving you time to do it with them.


I love corvids. Enormous ravens and rascally Canada jays (camp robbers) were the dominant wild avian species around the fringes of human society where I grew up in sub-arctic boreal forest. But I've only rarely seen blue jays around here, and never on my property. I'd love to attract them, just for the company. Corvids are good company, almost as good as parrots, and way less dependent.

So I googled "how to attract blue jays" and found a thread on a bird forum recommending a feeder with peanuts. And there I saw this:

If Blue Jays are anything like their close relatives, Steller’s Jays, peanuts in the shell are definitely the way to go. The Steller’s (& scrub-jays) I see regularly in Reno are passionately interested in peanuts & will spend hours collecting & caching them (whenever I do yard work in the spring I find scores of peanuts in all kinds of places where the scrub-jays have hidden them).


And suddenly I am all "ka-ching!" If I buy whole raw peanuts (same as I planted in the spring) and put them out in a feeder, I wonder if I can get jays to come and "stash" them around my property for me. If so, I get jays (win) and volunteer peanut planting labor, at the cost of a certain inefficiency. Anybody think it will work?

The only downside I can see is if the jays have a staching/caching behavior that involves raised places but never on/in the ground. I just don't know. I suppose trying to saturate the local squirrel population with peanuts would also work, but I like squirrels rather less.
 
Dan Boone
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Ooh, looking better and better. Here's an article about Jays transporting acorns, which indicates that soft damp soil is a favorite cache site for the jays: http://ucanr.edu/sites/oak_range/Oak_Articles_On_Line/Oak_Woodland_Wildlife/Jays_Plant_Acorns/

Jays scatter their storage sites over a large area. Soft damp soils provide numerous locations and a quick means of covering the cache, so jays inadvertently put acorns where they are most likely to grow. Johnson and Adkisson found that seeds planted by jays had a higher rate of germination than seeds selected at random under trees...


That gives me a reason to collect acorns, too. I'm not hungry enough to mess with leaching and eating them just now, but a bucket of acorns sounds like it would work well in my jay-attracting mix. I already have plenty of oak trees, but I wouldn't mind more seedlings, either.
 
David Livingston
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The problem as I see it is that in order to train these birds you will have to give them a reward greater than the task . What could be better than a peanut for these birds ? Would you want to give it too them ?

David
 
Dan Boone
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From the bird's perspective, all the peanuts are for eating. The notion is that they never go back for them all, and some of the surplus will germinate.

The downside is that the birds presumably eat a lot more than they store/plant.
 
elle sagenev
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I have peacocks. I wish I could post a video I have of them. Our very first year of poultry we discovered we had a pair of great horned owls breeding in our trees. We only discovered it after 1/2 our flock was decapitated. Anyway, the peacocks are the only reason we knew. The peacocks are the only reason I ever know something is wrong. I find my male peacock to be incredibly brave and my females to be fierce. The male puffed up, at not even 1 year old, and went after that owl. The male owl, thankfully, as he was smallish. The female was the biggest bird I'd ever seen. Terrifying! I've had hawks circle my coop. I had one just 2 weeks ago I thought I was going to have to run out and run off. I should have known better. My male flew up onto the roof of the barn and my females let out an almighty racket. The hawk moved on. I have lost many guineas to predators and to their own stupidity (They are very fond of flying into walls and breaking their own necks) but I've not lost a single peacock.

BUT peacocks won't plant peanuts for you. They'll just handle some of your other problems.

Plus, peacocks!
 
Dan Boone
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I'll confess I hadn't considered peacocks. To the research machine!
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I definitely think it would be worth a shot.

I remember when I was in grad school in Wisconsin - we had a ton of bird feeders, including one with sunflower seeds in it. Squirrels would come get a cheekful of seeds and then scamper off to bury them. In the spring we had oodles of sunflower clumps.

Squirrels also stashed black walnuts EVERYWHERE and we were stuck pulling up trees for a couple of months each spring. I remember one Fall I was sitting at the kitchen window eating breakfast when a squirrel climbed up my roommate's bike and tucked a walnut up under the seat on top of one of the seat springs. Although I was tempted not to tell her about it on the off-chance that she might actually be a princess and this was some "test" - I figured the chances were low - nothing princess-y about her - she didn't even like PINK! Anyway - I did finally break down and tell her about the walnut as she was wheeling her bike down the driveway.... The same nut barely missed me as I ducked back into the house
 
alex Keenan
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If you have chipmunks you can have stuff stashed.
I had a female chipmunk move into a garden area I have with about 40 thirty gallon pots I use for testing plants.
We were feeding grains to the chickens and unknown to me the chipmunk was raiding the feeders.
I discovered my error when I had wheat grass sprouting up in most of my test pots.
 
Dan Boone
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Stage one success! Blue jays attracted.

I have been putting out a few peanuts along with more traditional bird food ever since I posted this thread. The local cardinal family (which was doing just *fine* raiding the dogfood dishes) has been really loving the feeder, but that was pretty much it for bird feeder action.

Until just now, when I looked out and found a blue jay checking out the empty feeder. That tells me he's been here before, too.

So I ran out with a handful of fresh peanuts...
 
Aaron Festa
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Thanks for posting this. Very interesting and fun experiment. I'll give it a go.
 
Dan Boone
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That blue jay has been a couple more times, although he currently seems more interested in the dog food dish. But my cardinals are loving the feeder. And there's some sort of little bird about half the size of the cardinals who is carrying off the peanuts, which -- in shell -- are longer than this little bird's head.

Sadly my local hawks have now figured out the feeder. I saw one of them trying to catch a female cardinal right at the feeder this afternoon, although I think she may have escaped.
 
Micky Ewing
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Dan, you may already be familiar with this video, but if not it may get you thinking even bigger about recruiting avian help. I haven't been able to stop thinking about that crow vending machine since I watched this 6 years ago. I had never thought of getting help with planting, but it had occurred to me that crows would be great nut harvesters (easy access to tree tops, for a start), if I could just figure out a trade we could both be happy with. How about pine nuts for example? That would be a nice cash crop now, wouldn't it? Easy to pay in peanuts and still make a tidy profit.



 
Micky Ewing
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Since the topic is blue jays (or is it peanuts), I thought I'd post these photos taken by a bird and photography enthusiast friend here in Ottawa. She took these just this weekend.





 
Dan Boone
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Fun video and awesome pictures, thank you!

I'm getting so much action on my feeder from various species, I'm putting all kinds of spare seeds in there. Sure the birds are digesting most of them, but I'm having fun imagining all the little poop piles with undigested seeds in them building up all over my property, just waiting for the spring rains...
 
Dan Boone
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My wife, who has working color vision as I somewhat do not, says our flock of cardinals has got much brighter red plumage coloring since I've started feeding peanuts, sunflower seeds, and bird seed mix. Considering that they were eating commercial dogfood before that, which is sort of a nutrient desert, that's not a real surprise to me.

The feeder is a busy place now -- much busier than the dog dish used to be -- and all the birds are staging onto the feeder from my orchard area, perching in my young apple trees and in the taller elm saplings that I am leaving in place until the apples get much bigger. They are pooping all over the fence line by one of my apple trees and a small thicket of transplanted sand plums. So I'm at least getting some fertility along with the entertainment from my peanuts-and-seeds commercial inputs.

If the experiment works and I get peanut plants and sunflowers all over next summer, I may be able to harvest back some food for next winter's feeder. (I'll probably plant some the old fashioned way next spring just to be on the safe side.) Given how locally all these birds are pooping, I'm tempted to sneak a bunch of small seeds (amaranth, clover, mustard, chopped up goji berries, radish...) into the birdseed in the hopes that they'll volunteer all over the place. I could hand sow, but I can't hand-provide every seed with its own pile of bird poop that way.

When I first started clearing ash saplings from my orchard area to make room for the apples, I deliberately cut a lot of saplings off at head height and left the trunks in place for bird perches. I'm feeling smug now, because every one of these is streaked with bird poop and in a ring around it on the ground.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Some seed are specifically programmed to be planted by bird droppings. You may get berry vines which you can train up those sapling stumps. Small fruits like cherries are often planted when the bird takes it to a perch to eat the flesh off then drops the seed.
My Himalayan blackberries were planted along fence lines by the birds before I moved here. I pruned out the fencing and put one wire on the top of the posts to train the vines.
 
Dan Boone
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I think my scheme is working!

There's been a pair of jays visiting the feeder regularly for awhile now. Today I pulled into the yard and found them both present and eating sunflower seeds from an almost-empty feeder. So I refilled it, this time heavy on the peanuts. And then I watched them conduct regular shuttle flights deeper into my woods as they promptly carried away all the peanuts. Just in and out, no pauses, no time to eat anything, I couldn't see where they were going but they were stashing the nuts for sure, and they were doing it somewhere within a few hundred feet of the feeder.

 
Dan Boone
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Four jays on the feeder at the same time today. I love it when a plan comes together!
 
Dan Boone
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Yesterday I found one of the places the birds go to eat the peanuts. I have a shrubby little cluster of Osage Orange trees (young ones, maybe 12 feet tall, about six stems all touching, huge tangle of interpenetrated thorny branches) and the ground underneath the branches is covered in peanut shells and bird poop. The feeder is just visible through the bushes, maybe fifty feet away.
 
Dan Boone
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When I first started working on this property I was brutally clearing thorny tree saplings (osage orange and honey locust) as fast as I could machete them and heal up my wounds afterwards. However the more I learn, the more value I spot in these trees. Now I find myself "grooming" a lot of them so that I can pass them without spilling blood, but leaving more and more for shade, soil improvement, bird habitat, animal forage, and so forth. I still have to remove some (there are SO MANY) but I keep learning reasons to keep some that I was planning to remove. This horrible tangle of Osage Orange that the birds are now using as a secure feeding area is one that I was planning to eliminate. Now? Probably not, although I still need to clean up around the base.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Wow, that is great for you!

I am getting ready to plant a living fence of Osage Orange all along the road frontage.
I make flutes from Sacred Cedar and soon bows from Osage Orange.
Our birds love to plant patches of sunflowers for us, even if they aren't really where I would like them to grow.
Wolf has 6 feeders so far with plans for many more. We also set out feeder blocks for the deer in the winter and now that they have discovered them, they come every night for a treat.
I have feed plots for the deer, turkey, rabbits and this year we will be getting some squirrel feeders going since one of our neighbors wiped out the population and we need to attract new ones in to our land.
We did find out last weekend that we have a small population of flying squirrels now.

Our woods are hickory and oak forest with cedars interspersed. Lots of wildlife is finding out that we are a safe haven and more and more tracks are being found on our walkabouts.

I'm glad your experiment is working out so well for you.
 
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