I would sure like to know what the Jays are saying to each other. Here in northern California we see Western Scrub Jays and Stellar’s Jays every day. You can recognize both by their bright blue feathers. Stellar’s Jays have a crest while Western Scrub Jays do not. All I have to do is put out a few handfulls of peanuts in the shell and they desend on our backyard screeching and squawking. They have excellent eyesight.

Jays screech, whistle, whisper, croak, rattle, and make rasping sounds like kwesh kwesh kwesh. They pose, peck, quiver, raise and lower their crests, flash meaningful looks at each other, and stand guard. Scrub Jays also make a rasping zhreek zhreek. Stellar’s Jays tilt their head to one side and then to the other side. Stellar’s Jays also mimic other sounds like the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk, the Golden Eagle, and chattering squirrels. They have been known to mimic other animal sounds as well.

They’re communicating, all right, but I can only guess at what they mean. Still, sometimes I can catch the drift.

Today ornithologists are studying the communication of birds. They’re trying to learn each species’ vocabulary of gesture and sound. For example, we now know that jays announce a cat with a different call from the one they make when a hawk comes around. And based on the kind of call the jays make, other birds respond differently for each kind of threat.

Science has barely scratched the surface of communication between birds. But we can all listen to the sounds that birds make right in our own back yards. Simply noticing the sounds that birds make is the first step toward understanding them.

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