How Crows and Jays Save Trees

Oak Tree

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Have you read the latest science news? “Jays and crows act as ecosystem engineers”?  These birds are helping oaks and pines—Christmas trees—weather changing climate.

Pretty good for a bunch of birdbrains!

The secret to these little engineers’ success is that they like to eat seeds. Like squirrels, they collect and hoard acorns and pine nuts in a number of scattered hoards. Since they hoard more than they eat, some of these seeds sprout and form new trees.

This helps the trees survive. If a major fire, flood or drought has killed an oak or pine grove, the seeds that the crows or jays carried to a different environment give the trees a new start.

This has proven so important to the trees’ survival that their seeds have adapted to become even yummier bird food. The seeds have grown large and tasty, with chemicals to stop rotting, which makes them safe to store for a future snack.

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Meet the ecosystem engineers!

Europeans have been aware of this relationship for centuries and encourage jays to settle in their groves. They have been invaluable for protecting hardwoods as human settlements fragment the continent’s forests. 

Many mighty forests started off as scattered bird food! Source: National Park Service

In the Western US, where ravens were regarded as cultural heroes, scientists are rediscovering how the birds protect the health of Ponderosa and Piñon pines by scattering seeds and keeping isolated populations from getting too inbred. In the East, blue jays have been shown to be key in helping forests recover from wide-spread fires. As repeated droughts and wildfires have hit US and Canadian forests, the role of these birds has grown increasingly important. 

Blue Jays are key to helping Eastern forests recover from forest fires. Sources: NOAA and National Wildlife Service

As reported in Science Daily, Dr. Mario Pesendorfer and his team showed that our feathered friends deserve their title of ecosystem engineers as their greedy little habits help preserve the world’s forests.

So, the next time you hear a crow caw or a jay chattering its head off, remember, they have something to “crow about.”

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather--from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

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