Birds? Dumb? Hardly.
The wilderness parks Jake and I frequent are loaded with birds of all types, from raptors to hummingbirds. Our favorite park is home to two particular species of hawk – the Red Tailed Hawk and the Red Shouldered Hawk. Oh, and a family of blue jays that has made a career out of imitating the hawks’ screech.
Blue jays are members of the Corvid family – the same family contains crows, ravens, rooks, magpies, and woodpeckers. This is a highly intelligent subspecies of bird, possibly the most intelligent and it’s not uncommon for blue jays, along with other Corvids, to imitate other species.
This particular family of jays has nailed the hawk cry so well that birders and school children spend hours searching for a nonexistent hawk that seems so close you think you can touch it. It’s just a jay having fun at your expense! None of the other families of jays residing in the park make this call, so obviously the behavior is learned. I figured it out a couple years ago when I realized a jay was making this cry to warn his tribe about my dog. Or maybe scare off my dog. In any case, now I’m familiar with his territory and his family is familiar with me, so when we’re around they go about their birdie business, but I hear that cry loud and clear when any other stranger approaches. It serves a useful purpose – makes me take notice too.