It is an Eat or be Eaten World

June 4, 2018 – 

Blue jay in spruce tree

Earlier today, about 2 PM, I went outside to poke around in the yard. Some weeds caught my attention, so I dug out the weeding mat, my weeder, and a bucket and set to work. While I toiled, I listened to Bernd Heinrick’s book, One Wild Bird at a Time via audio books. As I listened to the chapter on how blue jays talk to each other, I realized that blue jays were actively jaying nearby. Looking up, I spotted a crow coasting down to the top of the street lamp pole in the front of my house. A blue jay hot on the crow’s tail took a swipe as the crow landed. The crow ducked. Even though I did not have my binoculars, I could see the crow had something small and yellowish in its mouth and seemed to be chewing on it. The jay made several attacks almost striking the crow each time.

Crow in same spruce tree

The crow soon flew off carrying its prize. Could it be the crow grabbed a baby jay from the nest? I checked some resources and learned that blue jay babies when first born are a pinkish yellow and each day they grow darker, being olive by day two. Nothing else on a baby jay is yellow. If what the crow had in its mouth was a baby, it had to be new born, less than a day old. If it was that young, it had to either be from a second brood or the first nest of these two jays had failed and they were trying again. Jays nest early in May. Other options include the possibility that the yellow I saw was something else or maybe even I did not see yellow, it was fairly far away. Or, the blue jays attack crows on principle. I wished I had taken my binoculars out with me when I weeded (I often do). About 15 minutes later, the same sounds captured my attention and there on the top of the neighbor’s 80 foot tall spruce tree, two blue jays were strafing a crow. Too far away to see clearly, I could not see if the crow had anything in its mouth. The crow flew off in the exact same direction as before. Obviously, the crow carried food to its nest. I suspected the crow was a fish crow by size. Furthermore, early June is when the fish crows actively raise their young. The American crows fledge young earlier than fish crows.

I corrected my mistake and went inside and grabbed my binoculars and positioned myself so that I could see the spruce tree. Sure enough, soon the jays screamed and a crow popped up from within the spruce. Two more jays came and the chase resumed with the crow flying off in the same direction. As it flew, I could see the crow’s crop bulged. It had recently eaten.

The fourth time I saw a crow in the spruce, the jays were joined by three common grackles. Despite its entourage of angry birds, this crow floated down to the lamp post and I could see that its bill held nothing and its crop did not bulged. The crow flew off in the same direction after the jays and grackles harried the crow for a minute or so. This lent credence to the hypothesis that the jays just attack crows.

After that, both jays could be seen flying about the neighborhood. Far more visible than they were earlier in the day.

About an hour later, a crow sat on the top of the spruce tree all alone, no other birds were anywhere around. No birds paid it any attention. So much for the automatically attacking crows hypothesis.

Years ago on June 3, I made the following notes: “Soon the fish crow comes meandering through the yard again, this time the path is not straight, but just floating about from treetop to treetop. A pair of blue jays gives chase; they do not want this type neighbor near their children. The crow swoops and dives, twisting to look at the jays, moving further from the area. The jays finally break off the flight and return to the oak, the monster vanquished. The crow immediately lands on the top of a nearby maple, faces the jays in their triumphant return to the nest tree. Now the crow knows where to direct his or her search. I do not see any additional action, but feel certain this blue jay nest will not survive more than another day or two as the crow will harass and watch the jays until they reveal the secret dooming their family.”

Crow and blue jays have a reputation for robbing nests of other birds. Several times in the past I noted crows carrying baby birds stolen from a nest. One time years ago, we were walking along the canal when a crow with a northern cardinal hot on its tail flew past us carrying a little bundle of red. Another time, it was a baby grackle. Once I watched a blue jay work a long time to pull a mourning dove off of her nest as the jay’s partner grab the baby.

Today, I suspect the reason the jays were not interested in the crow during its last visit hinged upon their nest now being empty.

While nature may be cruel, it is impartial. On this day I believe the blue jays lost their young, but a crow’s young got fed.

Crow looping around the yard

On June 4, 2018, I continue to work outside. Several times I see either the jays or a crow in the spruce tree, never together. A little later, I watch a crow fly over the house leisurely making loops and curls, watching and waiting. Was it trying to convince some bird to reveal its nest by attempting to chase the crow off? Nothing happened.

Much to my surprise, late in the afternoon, I do hear some common grackles squawking and I catch a quick glimpse of a Cooper’s hawk with two grackles AND a crow giving chase. The Cooper’s hawk definitely had something dead clutched in its talons. Maybe this day a baby crow fed a baby Cooper’s hawk.  


Smith, K. G., K. A. Tarvin, and G. E. Woolfenden (2013). Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

7 thoughts on “It is an Eat or be Eaten World

  1. It’s a dog eat dog world out there–or in this case a bird eat bird world. There was a Sufi mystic who said that the only religious education we need is to read the book of nature.

    1. I would disagree with the mystic. Nature is selfish, uncaring, and even cruel. I am convinced that the purpose of religion is to keep our natural animal instincts in check. Society and laws serve the same function. Thank goodness!

  2. When talking about raptors, I often told my students that it was a bird eat bird world! Your description is spot on.

  3. Very interesting post, Bob. Our yard overlaps territory for a pair of red-shouldered hawks and a pair of blue jays. They are not congenial neighbors.

      1. Wow! It would make a fantastic thriller of a movie. Thanks for sharing. I will be watching more closely in the future.

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