Nutty Wildlife Behavior

The silly actions of animals keep us entertained, stupefied
By Dennis Smith

The antics of wild critters never cease to amaze me. I recently watched a video of a sparrow trying to revive another one that flew into a window pane and knocked itself senseless. Anyone watching would have assumed the unconscious bird to be deader than yesterday’s news. But its little buddy seemed to know otherwise and kept prodding, pushing and pecking the stunned bird until it finally stood erect, wobbled around, shook itself and flew off with its partner as if nothing ever happened.

I’m sure by now that half the state of Colorado (maybe the country) saw that viral YouTube video of a mule deer fawn and a cottontail rabbit bouncing and chasing each other around a yard in Estes Park, playing what could only be a mutually delightful game of tag. Not only is it hilarious, it’s fascinating.

A couple years ago, we had a pair of foxes hanging around the neighborhood. They were regular year-round yard visitors for about three years. One brutally cold winter day following a weather front that dumped well over 2 feet of snow, we watched them race up and down the street in front of our house, diving into snow banks, playing a kind of peekaboo game and jumping over each other with obvious joy. When they tired of the game, they ran up our driveway and laid down on the front porch directly in front of the exhaust vent from the clothes dryer, apparently basking in the warm air from the dryer vent. How they knew to do that was beyond me.

This winter, the backyard blue jays are particularly entertaining. We usually put a handful of whole peanuts out for them every morning on a ground platform feeder under a pine tree next to the back door. I don’t know where they come from, but they appear as if by magic almost before I can get my coat off and hung up. First one, then two, then half a dozen of them, all quickly snatching peanuts and flying off with them. Not long after the peanuts are gone, they’re back, hopping around, screeching that high-pitched jeering call and generally stirring up a fuss until I put more peanuts out. I swear it’s as if they were scolding me because as soon as I replenish the nuts, they quiet right down until they eat their fill.

For the longest time, I marveled that such a small bird could swallow a whole peanut shell without choking to death. Then I learned they have an expandable cheek pouch in their throats, much like chipmunks, where they can temporarily store acorns or peanuts, carry them off to a convenient limb, cough them up, place them between their feet and hammer the shell to extract the nut inside. Smart little buggers.