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How many acorns will a jay collect and bury over a season?

Sent in by David Scott, Belfast

Studies on how many acorns are hidden during a season have revealed that a single jay can store as many as 5,000 acorns. Jays 'cache' their acorns in many different places but most often in natural holes, under leaf litter and crevices in tree bark.

The jay can remember where it left most of its haul and is thought to use visual clues such as nearby features to help guide it to its booty. They can even dig them out of 40 cm of snow! Of course, not all acorns will be recovered, which helps the oak tree as the acorns can then germinate.

The jay is perhaps one of the best-known birds for storing food in preparation for the winter. Despite their showy pink plumage and dazzling turquoise feathers on the wing-bend, jays are usually secretive birds that are difficult to spot for much of the year. However, during the autumn they become much more visible as they search for acorns on the ground.

Amazingly, a jay can fit up to nine acorns in its gullet at any one time, although on average they transport two or three, with one in the bill. This behaviour usually starts in September and will carry on until all the available acorns have been eaten or hidden.

Jays can spend as much as ten hours a day caching acorns and other nuts and seeds, often travelling several kilometres between their home range and the oak trees. One study in Germany estimated that 250 jays removed 3,000 kg of acorns in only 20 days!

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