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Thinking Outside the Box:  Blue Jays go "anting."

We all know the Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) -- a leading member of the gifted Corvidae Family -- along with crows, ravens, and magpies, among the most intelligent of birds. (See Bird Brains by Candace Savage, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1995, ISBN O-87156-379-7.)

© Dawn di Lorenzo

Found throughout the eastern two thirds of the U.S. and expanding, they are loud, boisterous, omnivorous and full of sass. They are among the handsomest of American birds.

Also an infamous nest robber although three-fourths of its diet is vegetable matter such as acorns, beechnuts and seeds, as well as beetles, grasshoppers, scale and caterpillars, and peanuts.

Blue Jays arouse mixed feelings. Sometimes bullies, their harsh cry of "Thief, thief!" warns smaller creatures of cats and danger. Its musical voice frequently goes unrecognized, particularly a haunting bell-like note as sweet as a gifted baritone.

They are mimics and credited with a sense of humor. "Anting," if you should witness it, is sheer intelligence:

A Blue Jay, bold and dignified, can sometimes be seen carefully sitting on top of an active ant hill, loosening his feathers and spreading his wings while the ants climb aboard. Happily laden, he will then hop aside, snatch the ants in his beak and with a squeeze rub them through his wings and body. The ants contain a natural pesticide which frees the Jay of mites and bites.

We speak of "thinking outside the box." They really do.

We are not alone.

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